Saturday, January 29, 2011
TSA: No Additional Rent-a-Cop Screeners
[Left: Rep. John Mica; right: TSA chief John Pistole]
The TSA head, John Pistole, has put an end to expansion of the program that allows airports to hire private screeners, rather than use the federal employees of the TSA.
I have always regarded that privatization program as a hare-brained scheme to return to the bad old days of local airport administrators awarding security contracts to rent-a-cop companies. The private companies were still technically required to perform under TSA standards, but we know how that works with for-profit security outfits hiring the cheapest employees they can find, as cheaply as possible.
The privatization scheme -- which operates under the telling title "Screening Partnership Program (SPP) -- was always a way for anti-federal-government, anti-union senators and representatives to weaken federal control at airports and reward anti-union businesses, which often were often campaign contributors. TSA federal employees aren't unionized like most federal employees, but they do get decent pay and federally supervised training, as well as some protections under arbitration rules.
Because of pressure from those politicians, airports have been able to choose to use SPP to opt out of using federal screeners since the TSA went into being in 2003. Only a tiny number of airports chose to do so, but the move was accelerating lately.
In a memo to TSA employees, Pistole said: "To preserve TSA as an effective, federal counterterrorism security network, SPP will not be expanded beyond the current 16 airports, unless a clear and substantial advantage to do so emerges in the future."
The American Federation of Government Employees, which would like to represent the approximately 50,000 TSA screeners, welcomed that as a way to ensure "a cohesive federalized screening system and workforce."
There was immediate negative reaction from John Mica, the Florida Republican who is the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mica is not highly regarded in the aviation industry as someone with a wide breadth of knowledge about aviation, incidentally, but at work here, in my opinion, is politics, not security.
"It’s unimaginable that TSA would suspend the most successfully performing passenger screening program we’ve had over the last decade," Mica said. "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."
He added, "Nearly every positive security innovation since the beginning of TSA has come from the contractor screening program. I intend to launch a full investigation and review of the matter."
It seems to me that statement portends a showdown in a committee room between Mica and Pistole. Should be an interesting hearing.