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GOP platform seeks privatization of airport security

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the Orlando Sanford International Airport uses private security screeners. The airport’s application to privatize its screener workforce has been accepted by the government, but federal screeners remain in place during the transition process. This version has been updated.


Unemployment in the private sector too high?

One way to improve that is to turn thousands of federal jobs over to corporations.

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. View Archive

That’s what Republicans call for in the platform they adopted this week in Tampa.

The platform says Transportation Security Administration “procedures — and much of its personnel — need to be changed. It is now a massive bureaucracy of 65,000 employees who seem to be accountable to no one for the way they treat travelers. We call for the private sector to take over airport screening wherever feasible and look toward the development of security systems that can replace the personal violation of frisking.”

That plank drew this retort from Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee:

Two Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security agents check a traveler’s luggage. The Republican platform is seeking privatization of airport security. (Andrew Burton/Reuters)

“Like much of the Republican platform, the provision calling for privatization of the TSA workforce is not based on an understanding of the facts. Private screeners are in place today at 16 airports and enforce the same policies, use the same procedures, and operate the same machines as screeners employed by the Federal government. There is no evidence that the use of screeners who are paid by a private company would improve security or produce a savings for the taxpayer.”

He added this ominous note: “On September 11th [2001], screeners at our airports were employed by private companies — a return to a pre-9/11 status for screeners would not improve aviation security or assist national security.”

The TSA had no comment on the platform.

Encouraging private companies to run airport screening operations has long been pushed by Republicans. Orlando Sanford International Airport, which is not to be confused with the larger Orlando International Airport, recently gained TSA approval to privatize its workforce. Sanford’s screeners remain federal employees as the transition process continues, though the airport’s application was accepted in June.

At that time, Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a proponent of the private operations, said that “transitioning to the private-federal model at Orlando Sanford and other airports will allow TSA to focus on security and not on personnel management, and it will result in better customer service for passengers, improved security services, and more cost-effective security operations. . . . As more airports across the country will be encouraged to opt out, both taxpayers and air travelers will benefit from this cost-effective program.”

The right turn

If you haven’t read it, take a look at an informative article by my colleague Marc Fisher about the conservative evolution of Republican platforms.

Regarding federal workers, Marc writes: “The 1960 plank, for example, touts ‘progressive Republican policies’ such as ‘liberal pay’ and says the government ‘must be truly progressive as an employer.’ ” Later in the article: “The 1960 plank calls for government workers to receive ‘salaries which are comparable to those offered by private employers.’ ”

But the 1984 platform, adopted before Ronald Reagan’s second term, derisively designates federal workers as “bureaucrats” and blames “Washington’s governing elite” for causing “declining literacy and learning, an epidemic of crime, a massive increase in dependency and the slumming of our cities.”

It’s worth noting that the current platform recognizes “the dedication of federal workers” and also calls for the “adjustment of pay scales and benefits to reflect those of the private sector.” Republicans reject surveys indicating federal workers on average are significantly underpaid, compared with their private counterparts. The surveys, which have been conducted for many years under Democratic and Republican administrations, use Bureau of Labor Statistics data and are released by the Federal Salary Council. Its members include government officials, union representatives and outside pay experts.

The GOP platform calls for developing a more flexible pay system and revising the civil service.

Ignoring the Federal Salary Council, Republicans, as we reported Thursday, instead cite conservative think tank studies and a Congressional Budget Office report. They say federal employees are compensated more, including benefits, than similar private-sector workers. So, basing compensation on those reports would mean federal workers would get less. The methodology of the reports has been hotly contested by federal union leaders.

Unlike their more moderate political predecessors, don’t expect today’s Republicans to say Uncle Sam must be “truly progressive as an employer.” But at least no one now is blaming federal employees for causing crime and creating slums.

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at

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