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"Mica claims progress in privatizing airport screeners"
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Mica claims progress in privatizing airport screeners
By Mark K. Matthews
The Orlando (FL) Sentinel
WASHINGTON - In the decade since U.S. Rep. John Mica helped create the
Transportation Security Administration, the veteran Republican has gone from
reluctant father to outright critic.
Few areas of TSA have dodged Mica's scorn; he has attacked the $7.8 billion
agency on issues ranging from wasteful spending to the intrusive pat-downs
of passengers by airport-security workers.
But only recently has the Winter Park legislator made progress on his top
goal: eliminating the roughly 52,000 TSA screeners nationwide in favor of
those hired by private security companies.
An airline law passed earlier this year included language - inserted by Mica
- that makes it easier for airports to make the switch by removing barriers
that give TSA broad power to deny privatization efforts.
"Hopefully we can get most of the airports into that model," said Mica, who
admitted progress has been "tough."
Only 16 of the nation's roughly 450 airports use private screeners, and TSA
has strongly resisted any change. However, Mica said he expects more
airports to apply for permission to privatize, and one in Central Florida -
Orlando Sanford International Airport - has already done so.
That Mica was able to turn his privatization provision into law is a
testament to his position as head of the powerful House transportation
committee - and a persistence that dates to the TSA's formation in the
aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"He's kind of like a dog with a bone with this stuff; he keeps going after
it. He's tenacious," said Todd Hauptli, a top official with the American
Association of Airport Executives, which supports Mica's efforts.
Larry Dale, president of Orlando Sanford International Airport, said his
facility recently resubmitted an application with TSA that would allow his
two-terminal facility to hire private screeners.
"The competitiveness of business is what drives this country and makes it
great," said Dale, who has been a frequent campaign contributor to Mica.
Dale said his airport is looking to partner with a private security firm -
likely Covenant, which has an office in Casselberry - as it applies for a
private-screener contract that he estimated to be worth millions of dollars,
though Dale did not cite exact figures.
But he said making money was secondary to having more control. "We want to
do it ourselves so we know it's done right," Dale said.
Officials at Orlando International Airport, the region's largest, said the
facility is considering a change to private screeners - though no decision
has been made. Their counterparts at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Miami
International airports said there were no current plans to switch from TSA.
Opponents of the push to privatize warn that a return to that model -
utilized before the Sept. 11 attacks - would again expose the nation's
skyways to a terrorist attack and that estimated cost savings were
At a congressional hearing in February, TSA chief John Pistole said an
internal study conducted by the agency found that private screening costs 3
percent to 9 percent more than federal screening. He said he saw no "clear
and substantial advantage" to increasing the number of airports with private
Mica, meanwhile, has countered with his own study that estimated the
nation's 35 busiest airports would save $1 billion over five years if they
made the switch.
"It's a bloated bureaucracy that is mostly security theater," said Mica, who
argues that putting the nation's army of security screeners in private hands
would make it more responsive while cutting administrative costs.
Doug Laird, a former Secret Service agent and airport-security expert, said
he expected that private and federal screeners would offer roughly the same
level of protection.
And he said switching to private screeners and generating competition could
save money - as long as TSA retained an oversight role to ensure safety.
That's the position advocated by Mica.
"You do need a TSA - I never said do away with it - but they [TSA officials]
should be compiling information [and] setting standards," Mica said.
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