July 7, 2011
Ever since the tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001, airport security has drastically expanded and tightened its policies for travelers. Legislation in 2001 created the Transportation Security Administration but also included an opt-out clause allowing airports the opportunity to use private screening methods instead of TSA programs after a two-year period.
Congressman John Mica (R-FL) was initially a contributor to the legislation creating the TSA in 2001, but now Mica recommends private contractor screeners under supervision by the TSA. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, under Chairman Mica, released a report on June 3 stating the private-federal model is 65 percent more efficient and 42 percent less expensive than the all-federal system.
However, Mica’s opposition claims otherwise. The TSA insists the expenses for the Screening Partnership Program are greater than those of the current federally run program. However, the Government Accountability Office has uncovered numerous flaws in the TSA’s cost estimates for the new SPP program. The SPP is designed to follow the same routine screening methods as the TSA and function under supervision of the TSA.
In addition, on June 21, Mica along with other representatives, requested an Inspector General investigation of the TSA’s recent operational failures. The investigation uncovered a series of mistakes in the TSA’s financial evaluation, which proved Mica’s statement that the SPP would be more cost efficient for taxpayers.
“Once again, indications are that this is another major failure of TSA operations, following on the heels of significant operational failures uncovered by the Government Accountability Office,” Mica said in response to a TSA mistake at the Honolulu International Airport.
According to the Federal Aviation Authority, a total of one billion dollars could be saved if the “Core 35” airports, which comprise 75 percent of travelers, would switch from TSA to SPP methods. Private enterprise would consult those individual airports which choose to utilize the SPP as the primary screening program.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of National Treasury Employees Union, views the situation from a different viewpoint. Kelley believes the public would be concerned with the safety of flying if the TSA would only held a supervising role in airport security.
“I believe the American traveling public would loathe to return to the days less than a decade ago when low-paid, ill-trained employees of private contractors handled air passenger screening duties,” said Kelley in a recent Los Angeles Times article by Richard Simon.
John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, agrees the TSA’s complete control of airport security is the best and safest choice for Americans.
“The nation is secure in the sense that the safety of our skies will not be left in the hands of the lowest-bidder contractor, as it was before September 11,” said Gage.
June 23, Mica was faced with a considerable setback from Gage and the American Federation of Government Employees. The nation’s largest employee union will collectively bargain for 50,000 airport screeners.
In response to this opposition, Mica said, “While collective bargaining for airport screeners may sound like a solution to a dysfunctional workplace, only a dramatic overhaul of TSA will provide a proper structure for improved employment conditions, employee respect, and the best possible security operations.”
In an interview with The Recorder, Steve Grossman, executive director and CEO of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority and Michael Stewart, director and external affairs coordinator, shared their opinions about the SPP and their predictions for the future of airport security at Jacksonville International Airport.
Grossman explained airports do not have a major process in TSA security.
“We have no say in it,” he said, “but we would welcome the opportunity to be more involved.”
The legislation in 2001 pressures airports with the burden to make the choice between private screeners supervised by TSA or an all-federal model of airport security. Grossman said, “Congress should decide.” He said he believes there is no recognizable advantage for choosing the SPP over TSA at this time.
Although Grossman expressed some frustration over the fact that the TSA holds both the operational and supervision positions, he does not believe Jacksonville International Airport will opt out of TSA operations because there is no major problem that could be fixed simply by switching to private screeners.
He believes TSA is a federal bureaucracy that needs to be streamlined by congressional legislation.
“The way it’s being done today is not logical,” Grossman said.