Privatizing some airport security screening operations while keeping some manned by the Transportation Security Administration is more expensive than a fully federal system, said TSA Administrator John Pistole.
Pistole spoke June 7 before the House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security. Under the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization act (P.L. 112-94 [.pdf]) signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 14, the TSA has the burden of proof of denying an airport's application to take over security screening under the Screening Partnership Program.
The House also approved June 7 as part of its Homeland Security Department fiscal 2013 spending bill (H.R. 5855) $158.19 million for TSA to spend on the partnership program, $15 million more than requested. Sixteen airports currently have privatized screeners, and another--Orlando Sanford International Airport--is widely expected to become the 17th.
Even in airports where screening is privatized, Pistole said, TSA managers must be in place to supervise operations. At the San Francisco International Airport, about 20 TSA managers supervise the private company performing security operations there, Pistole said.
That led to subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) pressing Pistole for the third time during the hearing over whether TSA could make do with fewer personnel. "I mean, they literally could get by with two or three people who are supervising those 40 [private sector] managers," he said.
Pistole responded, "Well, I don't agree with that, but I mean, obviously, that would be a different construct if we just turned them lose and say, OK, you have free rein."
Earlier in the hearing Rogers told Pistole that "I want you to cut out those people that are standing around not doing anything at the airport screening checkpoints."
Informed by Pistole that those agents may be on break and could have nowhere else to take it because a break room or coffee shop might be too far away to reach during a 20 minute break, Rogers replied that he is "one of the people in Congress who understand the TSA and I know who's working and who's not."
During the hearing, Pistole also championed the TSA's public interaction, stating that bad perceptions about its agents' behavior at security checkpoints are fueled in large part by anecdotes.
"We don't hear from the 99.9 percent people of traveling every day who had a positive experience or at least a neutral experience which is the vast majority," Pistole said.
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimonies and archived webcast available)