Mica's ties to private airport security company questioned

Airports across the country are considering replacing the TSA with private security screeners.

U.S. Rep. John Mica pushed new legislation to make that change easier.

But WFTV's Bianca Castro uncovered a connection between Mica and the nation's largest airport security contractor, a connection that critics say doesn't pass the smell test.

If you travel through Orlando-Sanford International Airport there's a good chance you'll soon have screeners who aren't TSA employees checking you through lines.

Airport leaders stood side by side with Mica in March, when he announced a controversial changes in legislation that give more power to airports who were ready to dump the TSA.

"TSA shall accept their applications, and they can't worm out of getting the best," said Mica.

Covenant Aviation Security was one of the highly respected private security companies who would benefit from the change in the law.

The company has reportedly won $692 million dollars in contracts since 2002.

The company, based in Mica's home district of Casselberry, and is now set to score again, thanks to his new legislation.

Some critics said it's no coincidence.

"The whole thing doesn't pass the smell test, and it kind of muddles the issues, the greater issues as in whether you should go to privatized screening or not. That one doesn't look good," said aviation consultant Jeff Price.

The president of Covenant Aviation Security has contributed $1,700 to Mica's campaign over the years.

Mica denied a relationship with covenant.

"Are you saying that they had no influence?" Mica was asked.

"I think people who support me, support me because of my positions and my position is strongly for the private sector," said Mica.

But the question remains: Should a private firm handle airline security? Currently, 16 airports have gone to private security. A recent government study found the private security outperformed the TSA.

But in 2006, according to a government report, Covenant was caught cheating on performance tests at San Francisco International Airport -- screeners were tipped off when undercover TSA decoys went through security lines.

"How can you be sure that we can trust them?" Mica was asked.

"TSA must hold every firm accountable," said Mica.

Private contractors still answer to, and are paid by, the TSA.

Supporters claim that if the nation's top 35 airports went private, taxpayers would save $1 billion over five years.
The TSA will ultimately pick which firm replaces the 100 or so TSA employees at the Sanford Airport. Officials at the airport said they weren't sure what kind of savings that would mean.

WFTV reached out to Covenant Aviation Security's president for comment, but our call was not returned.

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