Airports Not Jumping Off Wagon
For the past nine months, airports have been able to apply to the government to opt out of the federal screening system, but only Sioux Falls Regional Airport in South Dakota and Elko Regional Airport in Nevada have done so. The House Homeland Security subcommittee that covers infrastructure protection recently held a hearing to examine why.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was ordered by Congress to replace private screeners hired by airlines with a better-paid and better-trained federal work force. Speakers offering testmony at the July 26 hearing all seemed to echo similar sentiments — that the TSA screeners are not doing the best-possible job, but there is no viable way to opt out of the program.
“In order to make the opt-out program truly viable, the law must be changed to give airports additional control over the design and implementation of plans for passenger and baggage screening at their individual facilities,” James E. Bennett, president of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority says. “TSA should remain responsible for establishing standards and providing regulatory oversight, but airports should be given the freedom to decide how best to get the job done.”
Early in 2005, separate reports by the DHS Inspector General and by the GAO were sent to Congress. They both concluded that screening performance is no better than it was shortly before or shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. Congress also ordered five commercial airports to use privately employed screeners, who are hired, trained, paid and tested to TSA standards, to serve as a comparison to the federal employees. Those airports are in San Francisco, Rochester, N.Y., Tupelo, Miss., Jackson, Wyo., and Kansas City, Mo.
There are two approaches to the private screening option — one in which an airport itself becomes the screening contractor and a second in which a private screening company is selected and managed by the TSA.
“Though some airports may elect to serve as the direct screening contractor, others such as large hubs, may feel that it would be an impractical managerial and administrative burden,” says William DeCota, director of aviation for the New York-New Jersey Port Authority. “We are also concerned that there may still not be effective and adequate shelter from the legal and political liability for the airport that entered into the opt-out agreement.”