TSA 'Cooked' Data on Airport Security, Watchdog Reports; GAO: Cost of Federal Workers Low

Article excerpt

Byline: Shaun Waterman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Transportation Security Administration cooked the books to understate the costs of using federal workers rather than private contractors to screen airport passengers, a key TSA critic in Congress charged Wednesday.

Federal auditors found the agency erred in its cost comparisons, and a skeptical lawmaker said TSA did so to stop the use of private contractors to do screening - an option Congress wrote into the 2001 law that created the agency.

Sixteen airports throughout the country use private screeners under the Security Partnership Program (SPP), but TSA has barred other airports from joining the program.

In a letter to Congress released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said TSA's new estimates show that private screeners are just 3 percent more expensive than federal workers - not 17 percent, as the agency previously had stated.

Auditors said that earlier TSA estimates had not accounted for the costs of workers compensation, liability insurance, retirement benefits and administrative overhead involved in using federal employees.

TSA cooked the books to try to eliminate the federal-private screening program, said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. GAO found that TSA ignored critical data relating to costs.

Mr. Mica said the revised 3 percent cost difference is likely still too high because it does not take into account the full cost of TSA's bloated and unnecessary bureaucratic overhead.

The GAO found that TSA's methods for comparing the cost and performance of private and federal screeners had improved since the auditors' last report in January 2009, but it is still lacking in important respects.

The flaws reduced the reliability of the agency's cost estimates by increasing the costs for private-contractor screeners relative to federal screeners, the auditors wrote.

Mr. Mica said he thinks that if all the costs are tallied fairly, private screeners would prove at least as effective and cheaper than their federal counterparts.

I am confident that the private sector can not only perform better, but do so at a lower cost to the taxpayers, he said.

As chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, Mr. …