Following the tragedy of 9/11, Congress mandated a complete federal takeover of airline passenger security screening.
That centralized, Soviet-style, command-and-control approach has been unable to match the changing requirements of our 489 commercial airports. Most airport terminals are jammed with ever-growing checkpoint backups, while turnover, injuries and scheduling problems among federal screeners have dramatically risen. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has proved that it's impossible to micromanage recruiting, training, deploying and scheduling an army of 45,000 screeners from Washington.
No one advocates removing federal responsibility over airport screening. What makes sense is decentralizing the process and allowing these operations to be conducted by the private sector with federal standards, oversight and audits. As long as the highest levels of security are provided, the details of how it's done should be determined at the airport operational level.
Allowing private companies to perform screening will foster flexibility, efficiency and savings, as well as private-sector innovation and forward thinking. In fact, most of the major innovations and cost-savings to TSA's screening program have come from a private-sector pilot program at five airports operating over the past two years. Classified testing by the Homeland Security inspector general found that those private firms under federal supervision provide equal or better security than the all-federal screeners.
Aviation security is a federal responsibility. The federal government works best when setting policy and conducting oversight. Private-sector screening eliminates the conflict of interest where the government acts as the regulator and the regulated. Europe has abandoned the government-run approach without diluting standards. The system will struggle unless TSA adopts a common-sense, decentralized approach and shifts its focus to oversight, testing and frequent inspections of private screening companies.
Intelligence reports indicate that al-Qaeda continues to probe our aviation system for weaknesses. Aviation security must continue to evolve into a smarter, thinking system. Every opportunity we waste is an opportunity for those who would do us harm.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., is chairman of the House aviation subcommittee.