TSA screen­ers an easy can­di­date for pri­va­ti­za­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - David Inserra is an an­a­lyst spe­cial­iz­ing in home­land se­cu­rity and cy­ber­se­cu­rity is­sues in The Her­itage Foun­da­tion’s Al­li­son Cen­ter for For­eign and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Pol­icy. BY DAVID INSERRA

Imag­ine that you own a small restau­rant chain and you’ve hired a man­ager to en­sure that the restau­rants pass health in­spec­tion. Af­ter spend­ing a fair sum of money, you de­cide to check up on how well he’s do­ing. You visit each of your restau­rants, unan­nounced, and are ap­palled at what you find. Al­most none of them are up to snuff.

What would you do? You’d prob­a­bly re­place your man­ager.

Un­for­tu­nately, this hy­po­thet­i­cal mir­rors what’s go­ing on at air­ports across the coun­try. The Trans­porta­tion Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion has con­sis­tently failed tests of its se­cu­rity at air­ports. Sev­eral years ago, it failed 95 per­cent of the time. It’s not got­ten ap­pre­cia­bly bet­ter since then.

And the TSA’s prob­lems ex­tend be­yond se­cu­rity fail­ures. The agency has also strug­gled to man­age its screen­ing work­force ef­fi­ciently. Two years ago, staffing prob­lems left trav­el­ers stranded in long lines across the U.S.

Un­like our hy­po­thet­i­cal restau­rant owner, nei­ther air­ports nor air­line pas­sen­gers can fire the TSA. The­o­ret­i­cally, the Screen­ing Part­ner­ship Pro­gram (SPP) al­lows air­ports to opt out of TSA screen­ing and use pri­vate screen­ers that fol­low TSA rules. In prac­tice, how­ever, this pro­gram is mi­cro­man­aged by the TSA, and the agency makes it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for air­ports to join the pro­gram.

One of Pres­i­dent Trump’s cam­paign prom­ises was to bring busi­ness know-how to gov­ern­ment. Well, air­port se­cu­rity could use a large dose of that. The TSA is a per­fect can­di­date for a change.

There is no need for the TSA to re­cruit and man­age a fully fed­er­al­ized avi­a­tion se­cu­rity work­force. Rather, the agency should be re­spon­si­ble only for set­ting and over­see­ing avi­a­tion se­cu­rity rules.

There is no in­her­ent ad­van­tage in hav­ing gov­ern­ment work­ers do the ac­tual screen­ing at air­ports. Most other in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­tries have gone with pri­vate screen­ers — and for good rea­son. Pri­vate screen­ing com­pa­nies typ­i­cally han­dle la­bor and union is­sues far more ef­fec­tively than the gov­ern­ment. The re­sults are bet­ter staffing prac­tices at air­ports that im­prove the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence. Bet­ter staffing prac­tices also trans­late to lower costs and se­cu­rity that is at least as good as what the gov­ern­ment pro­vides.

Mul­ti­ple stud­ies bear this out. A study by the House Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee found that the San Fran­cisco air­port, an SPP par­tic­i­pant, op­er­ated about 40 per­cent more ef­fi­ciently than the Los An­ge­les air­port, where TSA han­dles screen­ing op­er­a­tions. Sim­i­larly, a study com­par­ing the U.S. and Canada’s avi­a­tion se­cu­rity ex­pen­di­tures found that Canada spends about 40 per­cent less per capita and about 15 per­cent less per trav­eler.

Luck­ily for the U.S., mov­ing to a more ef­fi­cient sys­tem isn’t rocket science. There are sev­eral ways to get there.

Canada, for ex­am­ple, uses a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship. The gov­ern­ment sets the se­cu­rity rules and reg­u­la­tions, while a gov­ern­ment cor­po­ra­tion known as CATSA man­ages equip­ment and cus­tomer ser­vice stan­dards. CATSA also con­tracts with pri­vate screen­ers to han­dle screen­ing at four re­gions across Canada. While the U.S. would need more re­gions, the U.S. could eas­ily adapt the Cana­dian sys­tem.

An­other op­tion is even sim­pler. The U.S. al­ready has the Screen­ing Part­ner­ship Pro­gram. Just change it from an opt-in pro­gram to the nor­mal way of han­dling air­port se­cu­rity.

And, no, that wouldn’t mark a dan­ger­ous re­turn to a pre-9/11 mind­set. No one is say­ing that beef­ing up se­cu­rity reg­u­la­tions was a mis­take. Back then, gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions al­lowed knives on air­planes, and cock­pit doors were not se­cure.

But the is­sue is how to best carry out these rules. Us­ing pri­vate screen­ers would re­lieve TSA from manag­ing a 43,000-per­son screen­ing work­force — a task which it has done very poorly. TSA could then fo­cus on over­sight and en­sur­ing that rules keep up with ever-chang­ing se­cu­rity threats.

Fo­cus­ing the agency on threats and over­sight would en­hance se­cu­rity, save money and leave trav­el­ers far hap­pier.

And if a screen­ing con­trac­tor fails, it can be held ac­count­able and re­placed.

You’d de­mand com­pe­tent per­for­mance from some­one work­ing for you. Our lead­ers should de­mand no less from TSA.

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