The government employees responsible for giving intimate pat-downs under the new Transportation Security Administration screening policies could be replaced with private security contractors at some airports, largely at the behest of a Republican congressman.
In a recent letter to over 100 of the nation's busiest airports, Rep. John Mica of Florida, who's likely to be the next chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called for the replacement of TSA screeners with private contractors. Some airports are considering it, including ones in and around Mica's Orlando-area district, according to the Associated Press.
"Independent evaluations of the private screeners say they perform statistically significantly better," Mica said on CNN on Friday. "We can have a better model, a more efficient model... that focuses security on 'bad guys' and not moms and pops... veterans, little old ladies, and children going through security lines."
Sixteen airports in the U.S. have already hired private contractors to work the security lines, CNN reported this morning, though the private screeners are still bound by the same technical screening process -- including pat-downs -- as TSA employees. Under the original 2001 legislation, which Mica co-authored, the airports have always had the option of using private screeners under TSA supervision.
Some passenger groups are threatening to "opt out" of airports' full-body scanners and undergo the enhanced pat-downs to slow down the mandated airport screening process in a group protest the night before Thanksgiving. As passengers are filing hundreds of complaints with civil rights and privacy groups, airports are apparently concerned about the possible impact on their business.
Orlando Sanford International's chief executive told AP that he intends to transition away from TSA screeners in the coming months. TSA agents could do well to interact better with passengers, he said.
"Some of them are a little testy," CEO Larry Dale told AP. "And we work hard to get passengers and airlines. And to have it undone by a personality problem?"
Orlando International Airport -- the area's busiest, with 34 million passengers a year -- told the AP that it's also reviewing Mica's proposal.
In his letter, Mica reminded airports of their legal rights to transition to private security firms under the 2001 bill that created the TSA.
Mica said on CNN that he was "the one that created the TSA, came up with the name... drafted the original legislation with other legislators." But he added that the organization has "mushroomed out of control," with 67,000 agents and overreach at the airports. "No matter what they throw out there, I'm going after reforming TSA," he said.
The TSA's new procedures are just the latest in a frightening list of security stipulations, Mica said on ABC, a seemingly ever-growing list that includes the banning of liquids and removal of shoes during screening.
"Now were being groped because of the diaper bomber," Mica said. "What's next, the proctologist? The gynecologist?"
TSA chief John Pistole defended the screening processes in an appearance on ABC on Friday, saying that a TSA internal review has found over the last few years that the screening process has actually "not been thorough enough."
Undercover agents have been able to pass through TSA screenings, managing to get contraband on the airplanes, Pistole said, a finding that causes special concerns about America's "determined enemy."