In November the Transportation Security Administration began accepting applications from airports to opt out of using federal security services to screen passengers. The new option, dubbed the Screening Partnership Program, began with a five-airport pilot program but is now open to all 450 commercial airports in the U.S.
There is some evidence from the five pilot-program airports--located in San Francisco, Kansas City, Rochester, Jackson Hole, and Tupelo--that private contractors were able to make existing security dollars go further. It's not clear, however, whether greater reliance on contractors will save money in the short term, since it would not alter the formula by which federal dollars are disbursed to airports. Three evaluations found no meaningful differences in security performance between the five test airports and their federally screened counterparts. But there are other factors that might make the option attractive, most notably the possibility that flexible private contractors will provide shorter wait times and better customer service.
At press time, the government had only received one real opt-out application--from a small airport in Elko, Nevada--but House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) says about 100 airports of all sizes have inquired about the program. (The pilot-program airports will keep their contracts for the next year.) Among the large and medium-sized institutions that have expressed interest are Baltimore/Washington International, Denver International, and Washington Dulles International.