By JIM McGARVEY
Remnants of the Bush administration threaten to leave the security of Montana airports in danger, as well as good Montana jobs.
A little-known provision established in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 called Screening Partnership Program allows airports to "opt-out" of using federal Transportation Security Officers and replace those positions with employees of out-of-state, private contractors.
In Montana, seven airports have recently contracted with an out-of-state contractor to provide these services. The total contract award value exceeds $10 million and the initial term ends in August of 2014. The airports affected include; Lewistown, Glendive, Miles City, Havre, Sydney, Glasgow, and Wolf Point.
Several additional airports are being courted by big, out-of-state corporations to "opt-out" as well. These additional airports are the real travel hubs in Montana — Kalispell, Missoula, Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Bozeman, and Billings. This is a frightening trend of which every Montana resident should made aware.
These contractors are not required to maintain the same staffing levels/schedules, which may mean longer lines at the screening station, fewer screening stations with less advanced equipment, more pressure from hurried travelers at baggage screening points leading to more mistakes, and a greater threat of danger to a community.
In airports that have not "opted-out" (including Great Falls — see box at right) the TSO's are federal officers with all of the authority of any federal officer including penalties for persons who would disrespect that authority.
For example; if a terrorist were to strike a TSO in an attempt to escape an arrest the consequences would be severe. In turn, if a terrorist were to strike the employee of a private contractor, there are no deterrents, federal penalties, or authority inherent in that position or that offense.
This lowers the level of esteem at which airport security is regarded and increases the likelihood of threats within that airport and its community.
Also, federal TSOs are managed by the Transportation Security Administration which operates solely for the purpose of public safety with no profit margins.
Our taxpayer dollars fund airport security. Information indicates that private corporations interested in contracting this work will maintain the same budget level, but will do so for the purpose of turning a profit which means fewer employees, less training, and lesser employee benefit programs like pensions and health care coverage.
These cost-cutting measures will allow the contractor to send big profits out-of-state and reduce the income that circulates in each Montana community.
Each airport authority has to welcome this condition into their community by requesting to "opt-out."
According to reports, the board members of the airport authorities in Kalispell and Butte have already requested this status, though the status has not yet been formally awarded.
It is imperative that residents and community leaders speak out right away to demand better security and better jobs at these larger airports, and every Montana community and every Montana worker.
The members serving on airport authorities within Montana have a duty to add value to a community, not strip its value for the profits of out-of-state corporations at the cost of the citizen taxpayer.