Magazine article Security Management

Private Sector Finds It Hard to Regain Airport Screening Business: Airports Were Given the Right to Hire Private Security Contractors for Baggage and Personnel Screening Nearly Two Years Ago. Only a Handful Have Chosen to Do So

Magazine article Security Management

Private Sector Finds It Hard to Regain Airport Screening Business: Airports Were Given the Right to Hire Private Security Contractors for Baggage and Personnel Screening Nearly Two Years Ago. Only a Handful Have Chosen to Do So

Article excerpt

U.S. AIRPORTS became eligible to switch their personnel and baggage screener programs back to the private sector nearly two years ago under the Screening Partnership Program (SPP). Those workers had been federalized in the wake of 9-11. As of mid-2006, however, only six of the more than 400 sites had opted for private screeners.

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When the screeners were first federalized under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001, five airports were allowed to stay with private screening through a pilot program. When switching back to a private sector work force again became an option for all airports, the five airports in the pilot program immediately signed on. But only one not in the pilot test--the Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Regional Airport--made the switch.

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In interviews with 26 airport operators conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 16 said they were satisfied with federal screeners or didn't see the advantage of participating in the SPP.

Mike Marnach, executive director at Sioux Falls, says that one problem may be that if there are any savings from going with the private security option--and they are not always forthcoming--that money goes to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), not the airport.

A bill introduced by Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-CA) contained some innovative financing ideas for facilitating private screening--such as allowing airports to keep up to 90 percent of the savings they realize by using private screeners. But that provision was struck out in committee markup by legislators who believe screening should remain a federal function, according to Adam Tsao, formerly the senior advisor for transportation security for the House Homeland Security Committee, who spoke at a recent event sponsored by the National Association of Security Companies (NASCO).

The TSA does offer incentives for cost savings, but these are given to the private screening companies, not the airports. What's more, TSA's contracts generally require these companies to provide their officers with the same compensation that TSA screeners receive, making savings harder to achieve. …

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