Time to Bag TSA Screeners?

TSA puts lid on program that allows airports to use private security screeners

By Brian Curtis
|  Friday, Feb 18, 2011  |  Updated 9:46 AM CDT
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Sixteen U.S. airports use private screeners, but the TSA has decided not to expand the program.

Brian Curtis, NBCDFW.com

Sixteen U.S. airports use private screeners, but the TSA has decided not to expand the program.

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Sixteen U.S. airports don't have Transportation Security Administration screeners, but the agency has decided not to expand the program.

Kansas City International Airport, one of the 16 airports, uses screeners from a private security company.

"We just feel that a private company does it much better, much more efficiently," said Mark VanLoh, Kansas City's aviation director.

Other airports took notice and applied to switch from TSA to private screeners.

"Airports have scheduled tours of Kansas City," VanLoh said. "Their directors are coming to see me."

But the government recently put a lid on the program. The TSA argues that more private screeners would complicate national security.

"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," said TSA Administrator John Pistole.

Industry watcher Rick Seaney, of Farecompare.com, said he thinks there might be another reason: too many airports wanting to make the switch.

"The bottom line is, I think it was going to get out of control quickly," he said.

Some lawmakers in Washington are also skeptical of the TSA's motives.

Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, called the TSA's decision "unimaginable." He is promising an investigation into the decision to freeze the program.

The private-screening program is run by the TSA, which makes sure that private screeners use all the same procedures and equipment as TSA screeners. With their similar uniforms, many passengers never notice a difference.

Kansas City and the other 15 airports with private screeners will get to keep them -- which is just the way they want it.

"I don't ever see us changing back to what other airports have," VanLoh said.

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