Unions praise end of airport privatization program

A freeze on a Transportation Security Administration program to privatize airport screening services will preserve job opportunities for federal workers and keep passengers safe, according to union leaders.

TSA Administrator John Pistole said on Friday the agency would not accept new applications from private companies to participate in its Screening Partnership Program, which allows airports to opt out of using TSA employees. Currently, 16 airports across the country use private screeners.

According to National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley, Pistole's decision keeps the work in the hands of federal employees rather than outsourcing it to private contractors.

"NTEU has always argued that there is core work in every agency that is inherently governmental," Kelley said. "That has always been our argument about airport security workers."

Kelley has actively opposed the privatization program, saying it does not save money, and could cause a loss of expertise and professionalism and open up an airport to potential liability issues. After Charlotte-Douglas International Airport Aviation Director Jerry Orr in North Carolina talked about privatization, Kelley in a December 2010 letter criticized negative comments made about federal employees and urged Orr to commend TSA screeners for their work.

"The nation is secure in the sense that the safety of our skies will not be left in the hands of the lowest-bidder contractor, as it was before 9/11" said American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage. "We applaud Administrator Pistole for recognizing the value in a cohesive federalized screening system and workforce."

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, however, criticized Pistole's decision to end the privatization program. Mica has been vocal about the need to reform TSA's workforce and procedures.

"It's unimaginable that TSA would suspend the most successfully performing passenger screening program we've had over the last decade," he 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."

According to Kelley, TSA was created to provide the best possible transportation security system for the traveling public, and privatization would only hinder that mission.

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