TSA revises cost of using private security screeners
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."
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| March 10, 2011; 5:04 PM ET
Categories: Agencies and Departments, Oversight
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