TSA Opts Out Of Private Airport Screening Program

Officials from Springfield-Branson Airport in Missouri recently expected to be approved to replace government screeners with security employees from a private company -- a system 16 other airports in the United States currently employ.

But TSA Administrator John Pistole had other ideas, announcing Friday that he is putting a halt to the program.

"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.

And this is after TSA officials said less than a month ago that the agency would be willing to work with airports choosing the Screening Partnership Program. The 16 airports, including San Francisco and Kansas City, will be allowed to continue with the program.

With the private screening program, the security lines and procedures we are all used to by now (including the not-so-popular ones) are no different. The only change is the employees conducting the screening. Instead of being employed by the federal government, the screeners are employed by a private company who is under TSA supervision.

According to Mark VanLoh, director of the Kansas City airport, the program works.

"In my opinion, these contract employees -- they're not federal employees; they're not guaranteed a job for life," VanLoh said earlier this month. "If they don't meet the performance goals or maybe they're consistently rude, or maybe they miss objects that go through the machine, they are terminated. I can't remember how easy that would be to do with a federal employee. I don't think it is."

Not so surprisingly, the TSA Union was quite happy to see the program go.

Pistole was less than forthcoming on specific reasons the program is being halted saying he wants to help “the agency evolve into a more agile, high-performing organization that can meet the security threats of today and the future.”

Hopefully Pistole and the agency can turn those obtuse ideas into real action plans to make airport security stronger and less invasive at the same time. What do you think of the private screening program? Do you trust airport security screeners who aren’t federal employees?

Posted by Brent Dirks on Jan 31, 2011

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