Sentiment grows for privatizing airport screening – again!

Security and political critics alike are pressuring the TSA to either clean up its act or get out of the screening business

Edwards continued that Congress should abolish TSA. Activities that have not shown substantial benefits -- such as SPOT -- should be eliminated. Airport screening -- which represents about two-thirds of TSA’s budget -- should be moved to the control of airports and opened to competitive contracting. And the remaining parts of TSA should be moved to other federal agencies.

Gerry Connelly, a House Democrat from Virginia has been among the most vocal political critics of the TSA in recent months. During a committee hearing on the TSA's Screening Partnership Program, Connelly said he didn’t appreciate agents "barking orders" at people in airports, adding the less polite an agent is, the more likely they are to encounter resistance from the public

Connelly went on to say that there was no excuse for someone barking orders continuously at the public at any airport in America who is an employee of the federal government, or a contractor for the federal government. Connelly said he’d lose his job if I treated the public that way.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla, who is head of the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on government operations, said last week he plans legislation "one way or the other" to privatize all federal screeners within two years. Like many critics of the agency who want to take the screening process away, Mica is in favor of leaving TSA in charge of gathering intelligence, setting standards and running audits.

"If you come to Orlando airport or Sanford airport, what is going on is almost criminal to American citizens, the way they are treated," said Mica. "This is the mess we've created."

But not all aviation security experts are ready to throw TSA screeners under the bus. Even those who have been sharp critics of the aviation industry’s security infrastructure don’t follow the lead of those calling for private sector intervention. Billie Vincent, a veteran of the Federal Aviation Administration and whose last position in the FAA was the director of the Office of Civil Aviation Security from 1982 to 1986, does not agree that the present system has failed.

 “The current U.S. TSA aviation security (AVSEC) system is far superior to the pre-9/11 AVSEC system that resulted in the deaths of almost 3,000 people.  That is not to say that elements of the current TSA AVSEC system cannot be improved.  Airports, airlines, and selective members of Congress that are advocating a return to a privatized AVSEC system are not doing so with the primary purpose of improving AVSEC – they have other motives,” warns Vincent. 

“Other proponents are laboring under the mistaken impression that privatization would improve AVSEC.   However, privatizing the current TSA AVSEC system makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and would essentially be reverting to the failed pre-9/11 AVSEC system and all of its attendant problems,” concludes Vincent.

The jury may still be out on whether or not the TSA should retain control of screening operations. However, little doubt remains that the cry for agency reform is loud and not to be ignored.