Airports Consider Using Private Security Screeners In 17 airports across the United States, security screeners work for private contractors, not the TSA -- although they work under the agency's supervision and guidelines. Now, the new chairman of the House Transportation Committee is urging other airports to make the switch to improve performance.
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Airports Consider Using Private Security Screeners

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Airports Consider Using Private Security Screeners

Airports Consider Using Private Security Screeners

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: As the director of Kansas City's airport, Mark VanLoh is expecting to be busy this winter:

MONTAGNE: I will be giving a lot of tours in the next few months, from airports all over the country, coming to Kansas City to check us out.

NAYLOR: They'll be coming to check out not Kansas City's terminal or runways, but its security screeners. The Kansas City International Airport is one of 17 in the U.S. where the screeners work for private contractors, not the Transportation Security Administration. And that, VanLoh says, makes a difference.

MONTAGNE: In my opinion, these contract employees, they're not federal employees, they're not guaranteed a job for life. And in this case of private screening, if they don't meet the performance goals or maybe they're consistently rude, or maybe they miss objects that go through the machine, they are terminated. I can't remember how easy that would be to do with a federal employee. I don't think it is.

NAYLOR: But Republican Congressman John Mica maintains the private contract screeners are better. Mica is the new chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Last November, before he even took the reins at the committee, he sent letters to some 200 airports, urging they consider converting from TSA screeners to a private screening program. Mica's office did not respond to requests for an interview. But it in a clip posted on his website, Mica cited a Government Accountability Office report.

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C: The private screening under federal supervision works and performs statistically, significantly better. So our main purpose here is in getting better screening and better performance, not to mention that we can get better cost for the taxpayers.

NAYLOR: Mica says the TSA has become, in his words, an unwieldy bureaucracy with 67,000 employees, something, he said, that was never envisioned. The TSA will only say that that its officers are efficient and effective, and can respond with agility as new potential threats are identified. It's not clear that hiring private screeners saves the government any money. A two-year-old GAO report found it was actually 17 percent more expensive for the TSA to hire private contractors, but a spokesman says that gap has probably narrowed. And aviation analyst Robert Mann, a former airline executive, is dubious about returning to what he says was a fragmented system prior to 9/11.

MONTAGNE: It is likely that a private contractor would manage front line employees to a different customer service standard than would a federal work force. But if they're required to use the same technology, if they're required to meet the same screening standards and techniques, then the likelihood is it's a nicer wrapper on the same process.

NAYLOR: Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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