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Union says spending bill pushes privatization of airport screening

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A provision in the $1.1 trillion spending bill President Obama signed on Friday has stirred concerns about privatization of airport security.

The appropriations measure prevents the Transportation Security Administration from using federal funds to hire more screeners if the total number would exceed 46,000 employees. That, combined with a push by some lawmakers for greater use of private-sector screeners, has drawn criticism from the union that represents TSA officers.

“This is an effort by some extremist lawmakers who want to return airport security to the pre-9/11 era,” the American Federation of Government Employees said in a statement last week.

(Mario Anzuoni/Reuters) (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

As legislators contemplated the spending bill last week, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), a longtime critic of the TSA and head of the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on government operations, said at a hearing that he will propose legislation to privatize all federal screeners within two years.

There are currently 48,000 TSA screeners, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said during the hearing. Some of those personnel are managers and supervisors, a TSA official told USA Today last week. As such, it is unclear how the cap would affect staffing at security checkpoints.

Among the spending bill’s other TSA provisions, the legislation expands the agency’s pre-screening program, requiring efforts to make half of all passengers eligible for it without lowering security standards. It also requires TSA to develop more advanced screening techniques with the lowest possible operations costs.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestion.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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