Sacramento Reverses Decision to Allow Airport to Opt Out of TSA Federal Screening



01/09/2013 ( 8:00am)

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Only a few days after the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced it would start hiring private screeners for Sacramento International Airport and several others, the county board supervising the Sacramento airport rescinded approval for it to switch from federal transportation security officers to a private company.

The five-member Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to reverse its original decision to allow the Sacramento County Airport System to join the TSA Screening Partnership Program (SPP) in January 2012. TSA granted the airport clearance to join SPP on July 27, 2012.

But because TSA announced its intent to begin the competition for private screeners on Jan. 23, Sacramento Chief Deputy County Executive Robert Leonard, who oversees the county's airports, asked the board to reconsider its position.

In his request before the board, Leonard cited a recent audit report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Security Partnership Program: TSA Should Issue More Guidance to Airports and Monitor Private versus Federal Screener Performance, the findings of which diminished the board's reasons for allowing private screening in the first place, he said.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors originally expressed interest in increased staffing flexibility and better customer service. However, Leonard said the GAO report did not provide support for improvements in those areas should Sacramento International join SPP.

According to the GAO's audit report, TSA has provided more flexibility to federal security directors (FSDs) to manage resources locally for checkpoint screening at their individual airports, thus counteracting the board's interest, Leonard said. Moreover, Sacramento has not seen long wait times in its security lines to spark interest in greater flexibility.

"There haven't been significant benefits seen as a result of FSDs having the ability to split shifts and manage personnel with more flexibility," Leonard told the board Tuesday, noting the airport checkpoints never experience wait times approaching 20 minutes.

In addition, GAO's findings were inconclusive as to whether private screeners provide better customer service, he added.

Against this backdrop and the pending release of a solicitation by TSA, the board of supervisors voted to overturn their original decision.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, praised the board's decision, as did the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union representing federal screeners.

"This decision was made after reviewing the Government Accountability Office's recently released report that called into question the claims of superior performance by privatized screeners. I commend the board for making this fact-based decision and urge other airport operators considering a switch to a privatized contractor screener workforce to consider the findings of GAO's report," Thompson said in a statement.

In a shared statement, AFGE National President J. David Cox agreed.

"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," Cox said. "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. There simply are some functions too important to be left to companies that would be unaccountable to the American people, and securing American skies is definitely one of them."

TSA headquarters had no comment on the developments in Sacramento. But Kimberly Siro, the acting FSD at Sacramento International, told the board her federal screening staff were doing a good job of securing the airport.

As compared to a year ago when the board first voted, the federal screeners have more flexible shifts, effectively managing processes and scheduling by moving officers around as needed to meet security demands.

"We are doing a great job on that and we'll continue to do that to serve the community," Siro said.


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