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"DHS Thwarting Program Allowing Airports to Privatize Screening"
Monday, May 1, 2006
DHS Thwarting Program Allowing Airports to Privatize Screening
By Angela Kim
CQ Homeland Security
The Department of Homeland Security is impeding the Transportation Security
Administration from moving forward with a program giving airports the option
to privatize screening, according to a government report.
TSA has been working to establish performance standards for the Screening
Partnership Program (SPP), also known as opt-out, allowing airports to use a
private contractor for screening instead of a federal security force.
The agency completed its plan and forwarded it for departmental review but
DHS has yet to greenlight TSA's work, said a Government Accountability
Office report released Monday.
"Without these performance metrics, TSA will not have a mechanism in place
beyond the ongoing contracts for assessing the performance of private
screening contractors," the report said.
TSA started allowing commercial airports to switch to private contractor
screening in November 2004.
The opt-out has failed to attract much interest, however, partly because
issues of liability have yet to be ironed out by TSA and the department.
The report investigated TSA's efforts to answer the liability concerns.
The department, under the Support Antiterrorism by Fostering Effective
Technologies (SAFETY) Act of 2002, has issued liability coverage to three of
four existing private screening contractors, according to GAO.
But DHS suspended similar SAFETY Act reviews, saying that TSA needs to have
in place "performance standards that would allow DHS to determine if
contractors will perform as intended."
The performance standards are now held up at the department, waiting for
review and approval before TSA can formally adopt and implement the plan.
"Until performance metrics are finalized, it remains unlikely that DHS will
award such contractors certification under the SAFETY Act," the report said.
The performance plan outlines evaluation of private screening contractors in
areas of security, customer service, costs, work force management and
GAO gave positive marks to TSA for improving the screener hiring process by
giving contractors and TSA airport officials "more input and flexibility."
TSA also has made progress with program implementation by defining the roles
and responsibilities of the various parties involved in the screening
partnership, including federal security directors, TSA airport staff and
private screening contractors.
But the report said the agency needs to better convey new details to program
participants, saying "all four contractors we interviewed were unclear"
about the clarified role and responsibilities.
In addition, the GAO reported that TSA is rethinking how it would reward
contractors with screening operations that cost less than federally run
Under current contracts, TSA may not see any cost-saving benefits for
privatized screening because it over-rewards contractors for good
TSA is planning to give fixed-price awards of one-time bonuses to
contractors at the four smallest airports participating in the SPP.
The agency also wants to move to fixed-price awards for large airport
contracts but "can't do so for up to two years - when [TSA] officials
believe that screening costs at larger airports will be better known," the
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