TSA tentatively okays private screeners in Orlando

The Transportation Security Administration has given preliminary approval to a plan that would allow Orlando Sanford International Airport to use private security screeners.

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Screeners employed by private companies are already used at 16 airports under the agency’s Screening Partnership Program. Republicans have pressed for greater use of private screeners and welcomed last week’s announcement.

“I hope this opens a new era of reform for TSA operations, not only at Orlando Sanford but across the nation,” said Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “It’s critical that TSA get out of the business of running a huge bureaucracy and human resources operation and refocus its attention on security, analyzing intelligence, and setting the highest risk-based security standards. TSA needs to focus on going after terrorists — not little old ladies, veterans and children.”

Democrats and the union representing TSA officers, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), have opposed privatization of the workforce that screens people and luggage at the nation’s airports.

In February, AFGE President John Gage told Congress: “The mission of corporations is to make profits from the shareholders and that is in direct conflict with the single focused mission of air travel security for Americans.”

At a House hearing earlier this month, TSA Administrator John Pistole rejected an assertion by Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the Homeland Security transportation subcommittee, that TSA “could reduce its ranks by 30 percent to 40 percent and still be able to do the job just as effectively.”

Said Pistole: “No, I don’t agree with that. That’s a huge number.”

TSA said the Orlando plan for private screeners will not become final until the agency approves “a proposal that does ‘not compromise security or detrimentally affect the cost-efficiency or the effectiveness of the screening of passengers or property at the airport.’  There will be no immediate change to operations or the federal workforce” at the airport.

federaldiary@washpost.com

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson. Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

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Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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