Posts Tagged TSA

TSA Opts-Out

I’ve written before about the TSA opt-out program, where airports can have their security provided by private security firms as opposed to TSA government unions.  While the private contractors would still have to adhere to all the TSA procedures – this isn’t a way out of the groping, sadly – they would still be able to implement operational changes that could make them more responsive and effective.  Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) who created the opt-out program, and has been active in trying to get airports to adopt it, was reviving it as an option last November, right around the time that Americans’ “junk” became subject of extended national debate.

At the time, I thought that, while the TSA wouldn’t be forced to review these insane rules, or its attitude of treating all Americans as likely bombers, as a result of the opt-out program, it was still a good idea, as it would reduce the number of unionized government employees hanging around, and might well reduce TSA’s direct budget, always a measure of power and importance in Washington.  It might also make TSA look bad.

Apparently TSA has belatedly come to the same conclusion, and has decided to end the opt-out program by not approving any more applications:

At that time, the TSA said it neither endorsed nor opposed private screening.

“If airports chose this route, we are going to work with them to do it,” a TSA spokesman said in late December.

But on Friday, the TSA denied an application by Springfield-Branson Airport in Missouri to privatize its checkpoint workforce, and in a statement, Pistole indicated other applications likewise will be denied.

“I examined the contractor screening program and decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports as I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time,” Pistole said.

First, this is the perfect example of distortion of perspective.  Private screeners now need to justify their existence by a “clear or substantial advantage,” rather than the government doing so.  It’s what happens when government becomes an interest unto itself.

Second, buried at the end of the article, is this predictable response from the union that will try to help re-elect Pistole’s boss:

“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 9/11,” said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “We applaud Administrator Pistole for recognizing the value in a cohesive federalized screening system and work force.”

Because then, naturally, we night not need these bozos at all.

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The Opt-Out Letter

It’s rare to see anyone in the federal government actively trying to devolve power back to any sort of state or local authority, but Rep. John Mica (R-FL), is doing exactly that.  Rep. Mica was the ranking member of the House’s Transportation Committee, and is likely to become its new chairman in a couple of months.  He’s also one of the authors of the original TSA legislation.  Mica has sent a letter to about 150 airport administrators around the country asking them to opt out of TSA’s screeners and hire private screeners instead.

I’ll post the full letter later, but two points are worth commenting on.

Under this program, TSA continues to set standards, pay all costs, and conduct performance oversight.

It’s unclear if this means that TSA has the authority to require private contractors to conduct the problematic scans, or whether those can remain up to the screeners’ discretion.  Much of the momentum for opting out won’t come so much from reducing federal bureaucracy as much as from opting out of these procedures.  It’s possible that the push to have airports opt out is a political tool designed to reduce TSA bureaucratic empire, or to create the threat of doing so, in order to push TSA to drop the procedures.

Rep. Mica also makes a couple of claims that, on the surface, make sense: that private screeners’ performance is better, and that they have been responsible for the “positive innovations” (his quotes) that TSA has adopted.  Both of these are believable, but a citation for those past studies, and examples of those positive innovations would go a long way toward building the case for an opt-out.

DIA is the fourth-busiest airport in the country; such an opt-out here would be a major development and perhaps set the pace for other airports to follow suit.

UPDATE: The letter is embedded below:

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