TSA comes under scrutiny, some airports consider GOP Rep. John Mica's proposal to ditch organization

DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

Friday, November 19th 2010, 10:10 AM

Are touchy-feely TSA agents about to get the boot?

A Republican lawmaker, who is faulting big government spending, is suggesting that airports dump the Transportation Security Administration altogether, and opt instead to privatize security.

And some airports, fed up with poor service in a climate where travelers are outraged about the prospect of full-body scanners, are listening.

The consideration comes after Florida Republican Rep. John Mica – a longtime critic of the TSA -- wrote letters to the country’s 100 busiest airports earlier this month asking them to switch to private security.

"I think we could use half the personnel and streamline the system," said the Congressman, who's likely to become the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee when the new Congress assembles in January.

Some of the companies who might take the TSA's place are among the lawmaker's campaign contributors, the Associated Press reported. But Mica's spokesman Justin Harclerod insisted the donations never influenced his proposal.

CEO Larry Dale of the Orlando's second-largest airport, Orlando Sanford International Airport, said he'll switch to private security in January as long as a few concerns he has are met. He criticized the TSA's customer service.

"Some of them are a little testy," said Dale. "And we work hard to get passengers and airlines. And to have it undone by a personality problem?"

Officials at Orlando International, the city's main airport also said it was reviewing Mica's proposal. At least a dozen airports in the country, in San Francisco, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Rochester N.Y., already use private screeners.

Private contractors aren't a cure-all for those passengers uncomfortable with full-body scanners or getting hand-frisked. Private contractors will still have to follow TSA security rules, including hand pat-downs.

The TSA has come under increasing scrutiny for what critics say are invasive security measures. Just this week a California man got thrown out of a San Diego's airport when he refused a full-body scan and pat-down, telling the TSA agent, “If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested.”

In New York, City Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn) introduced a bill this week that would ban X-ray scanners that see through clothes.

"We have turned TSA screeners at our airports into Peeping Toms for no legitimate reason," he said.

The TSA attached little importance to Mica's proposal, emphasizing it "sets the security standard," regardless of who's doing the security checks. Before the TSA was established in 2001, airlines used private security companies to screen passengers.

"All commercial airports are regulated by TSA, whether the actual screening is performed by TSA officers or private companies," TSA spokesman Greg Soule told AOL News. "TSA sets the security standards that must be followed and includes the use of enhanced pat-downs and imaging technology, if installed at the airport."

ashahid@nydailynews.com


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