The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today has announced approval of allowing Orlando Sanford International Airport to go forward with changing its all-federal airline passenger screening system to private security operations under federal supervision.
U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, worked to change the law in February by requiring that TSA accept airports' applications to opt for the private-federal screening model.
Orlando Sanford is expected to consider two screening models, one in which a private screening services operator is contracted by TSA, or one in which Orlando Sanford itself competes for the contract with TSA and retains a private contractor to assist in the new screening model. Under either of these models, TSA will continue to set standards, approve private contractors, and conduct audits and oversight of operations at the airport as well as across the country.
After the Obama Administration closed down the private screening operations model last year, Mica added dramatic reforms to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bill, signed into law on February 14th, requiring TSA to take applications, apply a reasonable set of transparent criteria, follow certain timelines, and reopen the program.
"I hope this opens a new era of reform for TSA operations, not only at Orlando Sanford but across nation," Mica said. "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."
Micacontinued, "TSA is a bloated bureaucracy of more than 65,000 federal workers and a track record of security failures. The agency is top-heavy with 9,656 administrators in the field and 3,986 headquarters staff in Washington, DC making an average of $103,852 per year.
"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," Mica added. "Orlando Sanford will be the largest airport to convert to the private-federal screening model under the opt-out program. As more airports across the country will be encouraged to opt out, both taxpayers and air travelers will benefit from this cost-effective program."
Qualified contractors will now compete under a TSA request for proposals. A contract will then be awarded, and the airport will transition to a public-private screening operation.
The aviation legislation introduced by Mica an signed into law in February strengthens and protects the existing right of airports to "opt out" of the all-federal screening model and instead utilize certified private operators that conduct screening operations under federal standards and oversight. This opt-out program is known as the Screening Partnership Program.
Orlando Sanford had applied to opt out on two previous occasions, but was denied its right to do so by TSA, based on the agency's fabricated and biased standard, which was not established or intended by Congress. TSA denied other airports' applications to opt out as well.
Under the new aviation law, Mica ensured the establishment of clear criteria for TSA when considering opt-out applications, and required the agency to reconsider applications it had baselessly denied.
A report released in 2011 by Mica's Transportation Committee found the opt-out program to be 65% more efficient than the all-federal model, and would increase taxpayer savings by at least 42%. If the nation's top 35 airports opted out, taxpayers could save $1 billion over five years.
Sixteen airports currently successfully operate under the opt-out program, and others are interested. Benefits of opting out, as reported by airports and by the investigative work of the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Transportation Committee, include greater screening efficiencies and innovation, improved cost-effectiveness, better customer service, improved employee morale, and greater flexibility for airports.