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Posted at 5:04 PM ET, 03/10/2011

TSA revises cost of using private security screeners

By Ed O'Keefe

(Photo by Tracy A. Woodward/Post)

A long-simmering dispute over using private security screeners at U.S. airports boiled over again this week as the chairman of the House transportation committee accused the Transportation Security Administration of inflating the cost of using private security screeners in an effort to keep federal screeners on the job.

Under a program overseen by the TSA, 16 airports - including airports in Kansas City, Rochester, N.Y., and San Francisco - use private security screeners to inspect airline passengers, baggage and cargo. All other airports rely on federal transportation security officers.

TSA Administrator John Pistole suspended the program in January, saying he did not see the advantage of continuing it.

An agency study published in 2007 estimated that using private screeners would cost 17 percent more than using federal screeners. But according to a Government Accountability Office report released this week, the TSA revised its estimates in January and now says private screeners would cost just three percent more.

"It's obvious they tried to cook the books to make it look like the private screening under federal supervision was more expensive," Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said during an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters Thursday.

The updated estimate accounted for the potential cost of overlapping administrative personnel at airports using private screeners and the costs of passenger and baggage screening at those airports. Those costs include workers compensation, insurance and certain retirement costs, GAO said. The TSA is working to further revise the estimates, according to the report.

Mica, who helped write legislation establishing the TSA after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said the agency "was never intended to grow" to employ more than 40,000 federal screeners and thousands of administrative personnel. He strongly opposed Pistole's decision to halt the private security program, noting that GAO studies have concluded that private screeners perform better than federal agents.

"I'll spend any amount of money to make sure the country is safe, or passengers are safe or the airline industry is safe. But what I want is the best performance," Mica said.

Nicholas Kimball, a TSA spokesman, said the private screening program will continue at the 16 airports and will not expand "unless there are clear and substantial advantages to do so."

"This decision aligns with [Pistole's] vision of the agency as a federal counterterrorism network that continues to evolve to keep the traveling public safe," Kimball said.

The agency has worked to revise its 2007 estimates ever since GAO raised concerns in 2009, but Kimball maintained that "private screening contracts on average cost the government more than a federalized work force."

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 10, 2011; 5:04 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Oversight  
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Sure, the TSA revised their estimates after they got caught lying - again.

They're still obdurately determined to resist local efforts to benefit from private screeners.

Ironically, the TSA counts the cost, while local airports and Mr. Mica express concerns about effectiveness.

Does anybody really believe the TSA cares about the taxpayers it exploits and abuses day after day? I sure don't buy it.

Posted by: ElizabethConley | March 10, 2011 6:17 PM | Report abuse

TSA is clearly incapable of telling the truth. Every time they have made a public statement, they have had to retract it.

Meanwhile they continue to sexually assault, strip search and rob passengers on a daily basis and deny that they are doing anything wrong.

This is a dangerous and abusive agency out to serve it's own interests at the expense of citizen's rights and money.

There should be a criminal investigation of Napolitano, Pistole, top TSA and DHS management and Rep Peter (the perp) King who is responsible for much of this abuse and corruption.

This agency needs to be disbanded as soon as possible and these duties assumed by FAA.

Posted by: fisher1949 | March 10, 2011 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Gee the government employees find that the government employees are the most efficient solution. What a surprise.

Posted by: jy151310 | March 11, 2011 10:59 PM | Report abuse

Ever heard of buy-ins? Many contracts are issued for a 5 year stay and within those 5 yr contracts, teh govt can optionally renew. Many companies will bid low (buy-in) to get the contract. I see it all of the time. At the end of day, it costs the government more because of all of the add-ons. Regardless if the books were cooked, it was still realized that a contractor still was higher if even only by 3%. These contractors havent been in for their entire duration it will be interesting to see after 5 yrs, what the savings are..or are not. The point is, no real savings is had by a contractor. If no real savings is had, then it should be inherently government. Hiring contractors doesnt give the govt direct control of those employees-only communication between the govt rep and the contractor rep. Rarely is the govt involved in the hiring of all of those contracted out TSA agents. Therein lies the danger. Would the govt risk the notion that each new TSA recruit hired by a contractor has been screened properly? I just look at Haliburton and all of those security contractors in Iraq and that was a failed venture. Govt has no control on who these companies are hiring on an individual basis. Security is just too risky to contract out.

Posted by: IGotLotsToSay | March 12, 2011 4:49 AM | Report abuse

Its too dangerous to rely on a contractor to ensure that they screen each and every contracted out TSA person. And there still was no real savings in hiring a contractor regardless, it was still 3% higher by hiring a contractor. Remember those contracted out security firms in Iraq? That was a failure. You just cant buy loyalty and you just cant risk and entrust that each person a contractor puts out there isnt working for the other side or not doing drugs, or whatever. Security is not worth the risk. It only takes one time..and that one time might be you, your family or your airplane.

Posted by: IGotLotsToSay | March 12, 2011 4:53 AM | Report abuse

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