TSA halts Secure Partnership Program for airports

By: Mark Rockwell

The Transportation Security Administration will not expand the program allowing airports to hire private security screeners in lieu of TSA safety officers.

In a Jan. 28 memo, TSA Administrator John Pistole said he would not expand the agency’s Secure Partnership Plan beyond the current 16 airports that currently use it, adding he didn’t see advantages to the program. The SSP allowed airports to hire private screening companies and avoid using TSA’s security officers, as long as the private company was approved by the TSA.

“These airports will continue to be regulated by TSA and required to meet our high security standards,” said Pistole. “However, to preserve TSA as an effective, federal counterterrorism security network, SPP will not be expanded beyond the current 16 airports, unless a clear and substantial advantage to do so emerges in the future.”

San Francisco and Kansas City airports are among the 16 using private screeners. However, on Jan. 28, Pistole Springfield-Branson Airport in Missouri applications to hire private screeners and Pistole indicated other applications likewise will be denied.

"I examined the contractor screening program and decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports as I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time," Pistole said.

Some lawmakers, notably John Mica (R-FL) have urged airports to “opt out” of TSA screeners and use private firms because they provided more courteous and effective service. In early January, Mica advised some Charleston, SC airport officials to use private screeners. He said as “TSA has grown larger, more impersonal and administratively top-heavy, I believe it is important that airports across the country consider utilizing the opt-out provision provided by law.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, was, however, pleased with Pistole's decision.

“I commend Administrator Pistole for this decision which will ensure that TSA is a broad and integrated network charged with securing the Nation’s aviation sector,” he said in a Jan. 28 statement. “Given that security at the handful of airports that have 'opted out' of the system is no more effective or cost-efficient than at all the other US airports, ending the acceptance of new applications for the program makes sense from a budgetary and counterterrorism perspective.”

Pistole’s move also pleased the American Federation of Government Employees, which is looking to unionize TSA security officers. "We applaud Administrator Pistole for recognizing the value in a cohesive federalized screening system and workforce," said John Gage, AFGE national president in a Jan. 28 statement.

“Airports have had the option of opting out of the federal screener system since TSA was created, but in those nine years only a handful out of 450 have chosen to do so,” said Gage. AFGE is the nation's largest federal employee union and the only union to represent TSOs since the agency's inception. With more than 12,000 dues-paying members in 38 AFGE TSA Locals across the country, AFGE is the union of choice for TSOs across the country, said Gage.

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