Last week, the TSA announced it will not allow any more airports to choose to use private screeners instead of the TSA. “I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time,” the TSA administrator said.
No advantage? Gee, I bet McDonalds would like to say there’s no “clear or substantial advantage” to allow Wendy’s to exist. Fortunately, McDonald’s doesn’t have that power. Unfortunately, the TSA bureaucrats do.
Currently, 16 airports in the country have opted out of using TSA airport screeners. It’s no surprise why. A leaked 2004 TSA report concluded that private screeners performed at “the same level or better” than TSA screeners. TSA employees at Los Angeles Airport missed 75% of explosives used by inspectors to test screeners. But San Francisco screeners, who work for a private company, missed only 20%.
That’s probably because private screeners have an incentive to perform well. The Washington Post reports on some their innovations:
Every spring, private security officers at San Francisco International Airport compete in a workplace "March Madness"-style tournament for cash prizes, some as high as $1,500.
The games: finding illegal items and explosives in carry-on bags; successfully picking locks on difficult-to-open luggage; and spotting a would-be terrorist (in this case Covenant Aviation Security's president, Gerald L. Berry) on security videos.
"The bonuses are pretty handsome," Berry said. "We have to be good - equal or better than the feds. So we work at it, and we incentivize… There's a reason not one of the 16 airports that have opted out have gone back to TSA."
Another TSA problem is that TSA employees are hard to fire, while private employees can be held accountable:
"Unlike a government job, these contract employees can be removed immediately with poor performance, attitude or unsuitability," said Kansas City airport director Mark VanLoh. "It shows in our passenger surveys for customer satisfaction each year."
Yet the TSA administrator gets to decide whether more airports will be allowed to adopt private screeners. The government monopoly gets to force people to use their lousy services. That makes everyone’s flight a little worse, and makes everyone less safe.