Some of the largest airports in the US are weighing whether to hire private contractors to replace the Transportation Security Administration [TSA], as public outrage over security screening is on the rise, The Washington Post reported Friday.
Sixteen airports, including San Francisco and Kansas City International Airport, have already made the switch since 2002. One Orlando airport approved the change but still needs to select a contractor, and several others are reportedly seriously considering privatization.
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The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees Dulles International and Reagan National airports, is studying the option, according to spokeswoman Tara Hamilton.
Airport managers say efficiency problems related to the bloated bureaucracy of the federal TSA system is the primary reason for making the switch, rather than cost concerns.
Airports are required to submit requests for private screeners to the TSA. While there are no specific criteria for approval, federal officials are believed to consider the airport's security compliance record among other factors. The TSA, which pays for the cost of screening, must approve of the company to which a private contract is awarded.
Some leaders on Capitol Hill are voicing support for the trend. Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), the incoming chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wrote to 200 of the nation's largest airports, urging them to consider switching to private companies.
The TSA was "never intended to be an army of 67,000 employees," he said.
The labor union for TSA employees, the American Federation of Government Employees, questioned the merits of privatization, calling it an ineffective "patchwork quilt."
Public ridicule of the TSA escalated in November, as passengers voiced concern over invasive security checks, specifically the full-body scan.
The White House defended the aviation officials, saying the TSA was "trying desperately" to strike a balance between providing security and minimizing invasiveness.