TSA Blocks Private Screeners Despite Success and Good Reasons to Outsource

After the close of business last Friday, Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole announced that no more airports will be permitted to participate in the congressionally authorized program under which all U.S. airports are allowed to have passenger and baggage screening performed by TSA-certified private security firms instead of TSA’s own federal workforce.

"Shortly after beginning as TSA Administrator, I directed a full review of TSA policies with the goal of helping the agency evolve into a more agile, high-performing organization that can meet the security threats of today and the future,” Pistole said. “As part of that review, 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.”

This decision is bad news for airports, air travelers, and for effective airport security.

In fact, the opt-out program should be expanded, not frozen, for at least five good reasons.

First, privatized screening is at least as effective as TSA-provided screening. A detailed assessment commissioned by TSA in 2007 (but never released) compared screening performance at six outsourced airports and six comparable TSA-screened airports, using four years worth of data, and four measures of screener effectiveness. Performance results of the certified security firms were “equal to or better than those delivered” by the TSA screeners.  The only reason we know this study even exists is because the Government Accountability Office blew the whistle on TSA in a 2009 report (GAO-09-27R).

Second, the security firms have much greater flexibility to ensure that the right number of screeners are on the job at each hour of the day, day of the week, and month of the year. Airlines are a very dynamic business, continually adding and dropping flights, adjusting schedules, and (sometimes) going out of business. TSA is constrained by its own bureaucracy, civil service rules, and (probably soon) union work rules. So all too often it has either too many or too few screeners on duty at each specific airport. Too many means wasting taxpayer money; too few means lines longer than they should be, needlessly wasting travelers’ time.

Third, wider use of certified security firms might produce budgetary savings. The 2007 comparative study found that based on the way TSA keeps the books, outsourced screening appears to be 9% more costly than TSA-provided screening. But the GAO points out that TSA’s cost accounting leaves out things like workers’ compensation, general liability insurance, and some retirement costs which are still paid for by federal taxpayers but are not included in TSA’s budget. In addition, current federal law requires certified security firms to pay exactly the same salary and benefits to their screeners as TSA pays, even in parts of the country where the cost of living is low and qualified people would be willing to work for less.

Fourth, airports that operate with certified security firms (like San Francisco and Kansas City) are full of praise for the quality of service provided by their motivated employees and managers. This probably stems from the companies’ understanding that if they don’t provide good service, their contracts can be terminated or not renewed. And individual screeners know that if they have a bad attitude toward passengers or perform poorly on screening tests, they can be terminated—something much harder to do today at TSA and likely to be even harder in the near future if screeners are unionized.

Finally, screening should be outsourced to remove TSA’s egregious conflict of interest. This single agency is both the aviation security regulator and the provider of the largest portion of airport security (in terms of staff and budget): passenger and baggage screening. Consequently, when TSA reviews the security performance of airlines, airports, freight forwarders, etc., it is dealing with them objectively, at arm’s length. But when TSA reviews the performance of passenger and baggage screeners, it is reviewing the work of its own staff. And its incentive there, like any other bureaucracy, is to make its own people look good. Case in point: the 2007 comparative study which TSA commissioned from Catapult Consultants and then suppressed because it did not like its results.

No major European country handles airport security this way. Each makes and enforces aviation security policy at the national level, with individual airports responsible for providing functions such as passenger screening. Those airports either hire their own screening staff or contract with certified security firms. Canada created a new agency for airport security after 9/11, but the agency contracts with certified security companies for all airport screening.

This year is the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and also the 10th anniversary of the ill-advised bipartisan law that created the TSA. It is past time for Congress to revisit and reform its creation. High on the agenda of TSA reform should be removing the conflict of interest that makes TSA both the aviation security regulator and the operator of airport screening.

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  • Old Mexican||

    TSA Blocks Private Screeners Despite Success and Good Reasons to Outsource


    Government hates competition, especially if the competition makes government look bad... which will always happen.

  • omg||

    TSA Blocks Private Screeners Because of Success and Good Reasons to Outsource

    There we go. That should fix it.

  • Bee Tagger||

    Ouch... Robert Poole slummin' it on the blog.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    +1

  • Old Mexican||

    No major European country handles airport security this way.


    But "we" don't want to be like the hated Europeans!

  • ||

    ...now I'm confused.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Mainer,

    Don't be. Americans happen tp like their police-state fascim to be very sui generis, not a mere copy of someone else's.

  • ||

    Sounds like another law that hands too much authority to the executive branch. Congress authorized the program, but Pistole can just shut it down ?

  • ||

    The new House Transportation Committee Chairman, John Mica (R-FL), wrote the provision in question. He found out about this move by Pistole Friday night, and he's already promised investigations.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: John Thacker,

    He [John Mica] found out about this move by Pistole Friday night, and he's already promised investigations.


    Wow... He sounds pissed!

    *roll eyes*

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    Cops aren't the only ones who want their authority respected.

  • Joe R.||

    Yeah...I was qwerious to know about that part myself.

  • ||

    My question exactly. What discretion, precisely, is delegated to the TSA under the statute?

  • ||

    It kind of reminds me of the Obamacare provisions allowing the issue of waivers which say, basically, that a particular party doesnt have to follow the law. I would think this violates the separation of powers doctrine because it is the role of the executive branch to implement a law, not to say what the law is.

  • ||

    Infinite discretion in infinite combinations.

  • Tim||

    "This year is the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and also the 10th anniversary of the ill-advised bipartisan law that created the TSA. "

    I seem to remember someone, maybe it was libertarians warning us about all those bi-partisan laws we rushed through in the aftermath.
    Fucking assholes, always right about stuff...

  • ||

    I directed a full review of TSA policies with the goal of helping the agency evolve into a more agile, high-performing organization

    The best humor is unintentional.

  • ||

    It is past time for Congress to revisit and reform its creation.

    Don't "fix".

    Abolish.

  • prolefeed||

    I was gonna say that, but then I figured, naaaah, someone has to have beat me to it.

    +1

  • Spooner||

    Abolish government.

  • ||

    "despite success"? Despite my ass. "Because of" would be more correct.

  • Restoras||

    Monopolies hate competition too. Who ya gonna call? Trustbusters!

  • Anti-Trust||

    Yep. Why would Pistole help the competition?

  • ||

    Rep. John Mica is a bit pissed about this.

    Told of the change Friday night, Mica said he intends to launch an investigation and review the matter.
    "It's unimaginable that TSA would suspend the most successfully performing passenger screening program we've had over the last decade," Mica said Friday night. "The agency should concentrate on cutting some of the more than 3,700 administrative personnel in Washington who concocted this decision, and reduce the army of TSA employees that has ballooned to more than 62,000."
    "Nearly every positive security innovation since the beginning of TSA has come from the contractor screening program," Mica said.

    Interesting that the TSA would want to pick a fight with the House Transportation Committee Chairman.

  • ||

    After the close of business last Friday, Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole announced that no more airports will be permitted to participate in the congressionally authorized program under which all U.S. airports are allowed to have passenger and baggage screening performed by TSA-certified private security firms instead of TSA’s own federal workforce. [bold added]


    The government equivalent of whispering an announcement.

  • Vesman||

    +1

  • ||

    John acts outside the Constitution. We need to abolish the entire TSA and return to the pre-9/11 level of security. How many young minds can we educate for the DHS cost of 3 BILLION a month? I use to fly every week until John decided to create unconsitutional policies. Who cares who the groper works for?

  • ||

    Interesting that the TSA would want to pick a fight with the House Transportation Committee Chairman.

    Congressmen come and go; bureaucracies are forever.

  • ||

    True enough, the Democrats are thinking long-term, about those government employees union members.

  • ||

    as I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time.”

    One of the articles I saw over the weekend quoted him as saying, "...advantage to the TSA..."

    The true measure of success for a government program is headcount, and the budget to support it.

  • Virginia||

    So by the time Mica et al reverse the administration's decision, the TSA will have unionized. And then it will take expensive court costs to replace them with private screening companies. And what airport can afford that?

  • ||

    The government seems determined to destroy the airline industry. How droll.

  • ||

    Solar-powered bullet trains! OMG!

  • Wind Rider||

    Pistole's personal hero is probably Harry Anslinger. Hoover? Short term piker, in his eyes. So far, though, his only calim to fame is that of a walking, talking PowerPoint bullet statement spewing parody.

  • ||

    Thus making feasible an infrastructure for flying cars!

  • ||

    This little contretemps reminds me of Neal Stephenson's Cobwebs, a novel set during the ramp up to the first Gulf War.

    It is about as bitter and cynical an account of the inner workings of Washington as you will find. Recommended.

    "Cobwebbing" is what career bureaucrats do to anyone with the effrontery to advance an idea that fails to reinforce the power and majesty of their bureau. The idea (and the person) are swathed in cobwebs of study committees and reporting requirements until they are completely immobilized, to be put into storage and devoured later.

  • prolefeed||

    The title is "The Cobweb" -- not trying to be a pedant, but rather, my first try to order it from the library showed no copies because the ending "s" cut off all book titles prior to it in the alphabet.

    Amazon, of course, had better software than the Hawaii government software and found it for me.

  • ||

    Re: Cobwebbing...essentially the sort of thing that happened in the movie "Pentagon Wars" when the colonel in charge of testing the Bradley fighting Vehicle was told he couldn't conduct a test on sheep until a committee had studied the sheep to develop Sheep Specs.

  • Abdul||

    A big part of the reason TSA won't allow competition from contractors is not fear of competition from better companies--it's the federal labor unions fear of competition from scab labor.

    Pistole was the 3rd TSA nominee. The prior two were opposed--in part--because the GOP opposed their connections to federal employee labor unions. TSA recently got approval to have union elections which will come around in March or April. They're one of the largest federal law enforcement agencies without union representation. Federal labor unions backed Obama, and have been unhappy with his lip service to austerity, so he has to pay them off by adding more dues payers to their ranks.

  • scrat||

    TSA recently got approval to have union elections which will come around in March or April.

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster has turned his back upon us. We are lost.

  • Rock Action ||

    That's the first thing I thought of when I read the post. Hey everybody, unions through the back door - they're not carding!

    Jobs, jobs, jobs.

  • ||

    This year is the 10th anniversary of 9/11, fap fap fap.

    The other day, I went to the bank to get a little walking around money. The girl behin the counter looked at the check I was cashing, and said something about a "special numbered check".

    I gave her my best WTF face; she said "The check number- it's number nine one one."

    I resisted the urge to punch her, or even to say, "If by special, you mean it falls between 910 and 912" and merely rolled my eyes.

    September is going to be a bonanza for the 9/112 victimhood industry, I guess.

  • ||

    2

  • BenDU99||

    Who decides if TSA can unionize? Is there anything the House Republicans can do to stop it?

  • ||

    Who decides if TSA can unionize? Is there anything the House Republicans can do to stop it?

    The original TSA creating legislation blocked them from unionizing. One of the things that our recent Democratic majority did was remove that constraint.

    The House Republicans theoretically can stop off, but only by playing hardball; i.e., refusing to fund TSA unless it changes its mind.

    It's always harder to abolish something governmental than to prevent it from happening in the first place.

  • ||

    I don't understand this decision. If I assume good faith, and Pistole really doesn't believe there is any benefit to the SPP, then why allow the 16 airports currently using the program continue? Why a short note instead of a report laying out the financial, security, or other factors that make the program unacceptable to him?

    For the record I work at TSA, and yes, my soul is dying a little more each day.

  • ||

    TSA Officers don't receive the dignity of Title 5 Civil Service Protection and the Agency doesn't benefit from the type of workplace partnership contained in a collective bargaining environment. TSO's are fired every day and promoted not for the quality of their work but for the quality of their relationship with management.

    I am a former TSO and national TSA union leader with 5 ½ years service in the Agency. I am available for interviews or background information to provide the perspective of someone who has served on the checkpoint. While current TSO’s risk their employment speaking with the media; they will speak with me to provide a current on the scene perspective.

    Ron Moore

    http://www.examiner.com/specia.....experiment

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