Sacramento Co. backs out of private security screening alternative to TSA

Date: Tuesday, January 8, 2013, 2:54pm PST

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to reverse an earlier decision to allow Sacramento International Airport to be allowed to use private airport screeners in place of federal employees.

A year ago, the board voted to allow Sacramento International Airport to participate in the Transportation Security Administration Screening Partnership Program (SPP). Under the program, airports use qualified private screening companies to provide screening services under federal oversight.

Last July, the county learned that its application for participation in the program had been approved, kicking off a roughly yearlong process to develop a request for proposals. Once the TSA has released its request for proposals, set for Jan. 23, an application cannot be withdrawn, according to a county staff report.

TSA’s screening partnership program grew out of a two-year pilot program with five airports that concluded in 2004. Since then, all U.S. airports with commercial service have been eligible to apply to participate in the program.

Meanwhile, after close to a year of lobbying efforts, the American Federation of Government Employees — the union for TSA workers in Sacramento and nationwide — applauded the Board of Supervisors’ vote in support of federal jobs.

“AFGE is very pleased that the Sacramento board recognizes the value in a federal workforce at TSA and has revoked its previous approval for privatization,” AFGE National President J. David Cox said in a news release. “The Sacramento airport authority’s attempt to abandon its public servants in favor of corporations with only profit in mind was short-sighted at best.”

Among the primary reasons the airport sought to participate in the TSA program was to increase customer service and improve flexibility for the screeners, according to Linda Beech Cutler, deputy director, commercial strategy, for the Sacramento County Airport System. “It had nothing to do with profit,” she said. “We don’t pay for those screeners and we don’t get revenue from those screeners.”

Since the board voted to participate in the program a year ago, TSA has demonstrated more of a commitment to customers service and staff flexibility, according to a staff report. Last month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report that prompted the board to reconsider its direction. According to the report, TSA has been taking steps to improve customer service. The GAO found “insufficient evidence to draw any conclusions of improved performance under SPP when compared to federal screening services.”

“Our officers lived with the threat of this over their heads for an entire year and can now go back to doing what they do best — protecting American skies,” James Mudrock, president of AFGE Local 1230, which represents TSA workers at Sacramento airport, added in the news release.

Of the nation’s 450 airports, only 16 use private contractors, according to the news release from AFGE, the largest federal employee union representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia, including 45,000 at the Transportation Security Administration.

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