Can Airports Opt-Out of TSA?

Back in January 2011, the TSA proclaimed it was ending a program that allowed airports to replace TSA with private screeners (who were still “overseen” by the TSA)…

A program that allows airports to replace government screeners with private screeners is being brought to a standstill, just a month after the Transportation Security Administration said it was “neutral” on the program.

TSA chief John Pistole said Friday he has decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports, saying he does not see any advantage to it.

Though little known, the Screening Partnership Program allowed airports to replace government screeners with private contractors who wear TSA-like uniforms, meet TSA standards and work under TSA oversight. Among the airports that have “opted out” of government screening are San Francisco and Kansas City.

But on Friday, the TSA denied an application by Springfield-Branson Airport in Missouri to privatize its checkpoint workforce, and in a statement, Pistole indicated other applications likewise will be denied.

“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.

He said airports that currently use contractor screening will continue to be allowed to.

Why replace TSA with private screeners?

Advocates of private screeners say it is easier to discipline and replace under-performing private screeners than government ones.

Rep. John Mica, a Republican from Florida, said tests show that private screeners perform “statistically significantly better” than government screeners in tests of airport checkpoints. But the Government Accountability Office says it “did not notice any difference” during covert checkpoint testing in 2007. Both groups failed to find concealed bomb components, the GAO said.

The Orlando-Sanford (SFB) Airport has tried in 2010, and again in 2012, they were finally approved in 2014 as the 19th airport to buck the TSA.


TSA shuts door on private airport screening program

TSA awards private screening contract at Orlando Sanford International Airport

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