|by Sean O'Neill||Airfares & Flying, Airport Check-in, Questions and Opinions, Safety and Security||923|
Some of the the country's largest airports are thinking about hiring private firms to replace the Transportation Security Administration's front-line screeners. Sixteen airports, including San Francisco and Kansas City, have switched since 2002, says The Washington Post. Charlotte, N.C., Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., are all considering converting to private contractors, says MSNBC.
With private screeners, the security line moves the same way it does when TSA employees handle the process. Passengers take off their shoes, and they are just as likely to face the same pat-downs or full-body scanners as before. The private security firms themselves are vetted by TSA administrators, and their front-line screeners work under TSA rules.
Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida, the new chairman of the House Transportation Committee, recently contacted about 200 airports to ask them to switch, reports NPR.
Congressman Mica explained his reasoning in a recent editorial:
TSA has grown from 16,500 screeners to an army approaching 67,000 personnel.... Rather than operate a huge screening force and human-resources operation, TSA must refocus and direct its mission to develop and implement the best security protocols and procedures.
TSA officials respond that the agency is allowed to fire underperforming workers on the spot, in an exception to ordinary rules for federal employees. So there is no advantage on that score to hiring private contractors. Plus, no one has also shown that the government would save money by outsourcing the TSA's screening work to private contractors.
TSA Chief John Pistole told ABC News that undercover tests have shown too many weapons getting through airport security. He said that is partly why, last November, he ordered screenings to be beefed up with enhanced pat-downs and full-body scanning machines that can see beneath a traveler's clothing. Even if airports switch to private screening, these enhanced procedures won't go away.
What do you think? Should airports fire TSA screeners and hire private contractors?
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