Staffing drives airport's quest to privatize


Saturday,October24,2009

Staffingdrivesairport'squesttoprivatizeAirportdirectorexplainstransition
ByLYNNETTEHINTZE
TheKalispell(MT)DailyInterLake


TheGlacierParkInternationalAirportBoard'sdecisiontomoveforwardwith
privatizingtheairport'ssecurityforceboilsdowntooneoverridinggoal:
havingenoughstaffatpeaktimessopassengersdon'thavetowaitinline
forexorbitantamountsoftime.

Adequatestaffingistheenginethatdrivestheentireairlineindustry,
AirportDirectorCindiMartinsaid.Delaysinsecurityscreeningofair
passengersandbaggageatoneairportcancausearippleeffectthroughout
theentiresystemthatcostsairlinesmoneyandmakespassengersunhappy.

It'stheTransportationSecurityAdministrationthatdecideshowmany
federalsecurityemployeesairportsget,andwhenTSAconsistentlykept
cuttingthenumberofworkersallottedtoGlacierParkInternational,Martin
saidsheandtheboarddecideditwastimetoexploreprivatization.

"SinceTSAhasbeenatthisairport,staffinghasbeenreducedeveryyear,"
Martinsaid.

Inspring2008,TSA'sStaffingAllocationModel-thefederalprocessused
toidentifytheoptimalscreenerstaffinglevelsforanairport-cut
Glacierairport'sworkforceinhalf.

"Andwewerealreadystruggling,"Martinsaid,addingthatsecuritydelays
wereanongoingissueevenbeforeshearrivedonthejobinAugust2006.

Inmonthlymeetingswithairlinestationmanagersandthedeputyfederal
securitydirector,Martinsaidshealwaysasked:"What'sworkingandwhat
canwedobetter?"SecuritydelayswerearecurringproblemandMartinsaid
sheperiodicallyhasgottencomplaintsfrompassengersaboutwaittimes,
eventhoughthelonglinesareintermittent.

Theairportexpandeditsscreeningareatwoyearsago.

"Wegainedalotofefficiencies,"shesaid.Butiftherearen'tenough
employeestooperatebothlines,it'saproblem.

MartinmetwithagencyofficialsinWashington,D.C.,andquizzedthemabout
whythestaffingmodelsodrasticallycuttheGlacierworkforce.WhileTSA
wouldn'tsharespecificnumberswithMartin,shelearnedthattheagencyhad
calculatedGlacier'sallotmentinOctober,typicallyaquietmonthatthe
airport.

ShecoaxedTSAofficialsto"revisitthenumbers"andalthoughtheagency
didincreasethestaffallotment,itwasstilllowerthantheyearbefore,
shesaid.

MartinscrambledtogetafewNationalDeploymentOfficerstoeasethe
staffingshortfalllastsummer,butatthatpointthehandwritingwasonthe
wall.

"Wedidn'twanttofightWashington,D.C.,everyyear,"Martinsaid."This
particularyearourstaffingisquitehighandironicallyBozeman,whichhas
beengrowing,wascut"initsstaffingallotment.

Aprivatecontractorcantrainandhireworkersmorequicklyandbringsmuch
moreflexibilitytothetable,shesaid.

Thedecisiontoprivatizethesecurityforcehasnothingtodowiththe
qualityofscreenersatGlacierParkInternational,Martinstressed.

"We'veneversuggestedthatTSOs(TransportationSecurityOfficers)here
lacktrainingorhavecompromisedsafetyinanyway,"shesaid.

ONCEANairportjoinstheScreeningPartnershipProgram,federalscreening
positionsthereareabolished.ButProgramManagerRayWilliams,who
participatedinatelephoneconferencecallwiththeairportboardand
concernedTSAworkersonMonday,emphasizedthatprivatecontractorshaveto
paywagesandbenefitscomparabletowhatsecurityworkerspresentlyare
earning.

Atsomeairportsthathaveconvertedtoprivatecontractors,100percentof
theTSAworkforcehasbeenrehiredbytheprivatefirm,Martinsaid.

"ThisisacontractbetweenTSAandtheprivatecontractor,"Martinsaid.
"Employeeshavetobeheldtothesamestandards."

SomeTSAworkerswithconcernsaboutjobsecuritypointedtoaGovernment
AccountabilityOfficereviewofaTSAstudythatfoundprivatizedscreening
atScreeningPartnershipProgramairportscostabout17.4percentmoreto
operatethanairportswithfederalscreeners.

"Seventeenpercentisnotavalidnumber,"Williamssaid,explainingthat
sincethatreportwasdonesomeprivatecontractshavebeenrenegotiated.
Nowtheaveragecostforprivatizedsecurityisabout2.7percenthigher.

Martinconcurred,andsaidtheGAO'sreporthasbeenmisinterpretedbysome.
Moreover,workers'compensationpremiumsandpayoutsareabigcostfactor,
andifoneairporthasunusuallyhighpayouts,itbumpstheaveragecostup,
Martinsaid,notingthatseveralairportsactuallyhavesavedmoneyby
privatizingsecurity.

"This[privatization]isnotbeingdoneattheexpenseoftaxpayers,"Martin
said."We'restewardsofthepublictrust."

TheGAOnotedinitsreviewthat"TSAshouldnotusethestudyassole
supportformajorpolicydecisionsregardingtheScreeningPartnership
Program."TheagencyfurtherrecommendedthatTSAreviseitsstudyto
addressmethodologicallimitations.

GlacierParkInternational'sapplicationtouseprivatescreenerswas
receivedbytheTSAScreeningPartnershipprogramthisweek.It'sunknown
howlongtheprocesswilltake,Martinsaid.

InAugust,sevensmallerEasternMontanaairports-Sidney,MilesCity,
Glendive,WolfPoint,Havre,LewistownandGlasgow-wenttoprivate
screening.ButteandWestYellowstonehaveapplicationspending.


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