GOP report says private airport screeners can do more for less

On the heels of a successful charge in the House to cut funding for the Transportation Security Administration's airport screening staff, a Florida Republican has unveiled a report claiming TSA screeners cost roughly twice as much as private screeners and don't do the job any better.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said the report proved the United States could save $1 billion over five years by switching its 34 largest airports to private screeners supervised by TSA employees. The study was produced by GOP staffers at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which Mica chairs.

The 2001 law authorizing TSA required most airports to have Transportation Security-employed screeners, but singled out five facilities to run on a mixed model, with agency employees supervising private contract screeners. The act allowed other airports to voluntarily adopt the mixed model after two years through the Screening Partnership Program, but TSA Administrator John Pistole canceled the program in January, saying it hadn't proved superior to TSA-only screening at the 16 participating airports.

The program was strongly opposed by the National Treasury Employees Union, which hopes to represent TSA's roughly 40,000 airport screeners who are in the process of unionizing. The union said the program cut into inherently governmental functions and could open airports up to liability issues.

The oversight committee report accused TSA officials of bowing to union pressure when they canceled the program.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, supported Pistole's decision to cancel the program. Thompson shot back at Mica's report Friday, calling it a "solution looking for a problem" and "a political move to attack federal workers and further a privatization agenda."

"It is clear to me that a case study on two hand-picked airports should not automatically be a model for the entire country," Thompson said in an emailed statement. "As TSA has shown, private screeners are inherently more costly and further privatization could lead to greater inconsistencies in threat identification, intelligence dissemination and screening operations."

TSA officials had not responded to the report by late Friday afternoon.

The report compared the price tag of security screening at San Francisco International Airport, the largest participant in the Screening Partnership Program, to the cost at Los Angeles International Airport, which uses TSA screeners. According to the report, checks at Los Angeles cost $4.22 per passenger compared with $2.42 at San Francisco.

Much of that difference is due to the high attrition rate of TSA screeners, Mica said during a press conference unveiling the report on Friday. TSA screeners in Los Angeles have a roughly 14 percent attrition rate compared with about 9 percent for San Francisco screeners, according to the report.

The cost of recruitment and training per screener in Los Angeles is about $17,700 compared with about $6,200 in San Francisco, the report said. Private screeners are sometimes paid more than TSA screeners, but that cost is balanced out by the reduced training cost from lower attrition, Mica said.

He said the report showed TSA should "get out of the personnel business" and focus on creating security standards for airports.

"Our conclusion is that TSA should not be the operator, the auditor and the regulator at airports," he said. "It spends far too much time really operating its human resources bureaucracy. It will never get it right."

Mica said he anticipates legislation to counteract Pistole's freeze on the Screening Partnership Program. The Transportation Committee chairman added that only a handful of other nations use a fully federal model for airport screening, mostly in the Middle East and Africa.

Mica has a long-standing feud with Pistole and TSA, which he said has refused to send representatives to appear before his committee. TSA has said Mica's committee does not have jurisdiction over it based on House rules and that it's been completely forthcoming with the committees that do have jurisdiction.

The panel chose to compare Los Angeles to San Francisco because they are both "large . . . hub airports in the same geographic region with similar traffic patterns and challenges," a staffer said.

The House on Thursday narrowly passed an amendment to the Homeland Security Department's fiscal 2012 appropriations bill cutting $270 million from TSA's budget. The full appropriations bill cleared the House later the same day.

A TSA spokeswoman told The Washington Post the amendment, offered by Mica and largely seen as a swipe at TSA's efforts to unionize, would force the agency to cut its screening staff by about 10 percent.

That funding cut may still be reversed when the Democratic-controlled Senate takes up the appropriations bill.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.