What Does the U.S. Government Stand to Gain By Privatizing Airport Security?

The CT scanners have the potential to replace the older x-ray scanner currently employed by the TSA. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

Last week, it became public that the Transportation Security Administration, also known as the TSA, considered privatizing its operations at 150 airports across the U.S, roughly 35 percent of 440 airports served by the TSA.

The airports that were targeted are regional airports that are only served by aircraft with fewer than 60 seats, affecting around 10,000 passengers each day.

The news stems from a study that was performed to show how much money the U.S. government could potentially save by removing the TSA from its post at those airports.

There are many people out there who have expressed their discontent with the privatization of the TSA, claiming that it opens the country to many security risks and discredits all the hard work that has been performed over the past 17 years to increase the security procedures at U.S. airports.

The question at hand, however, is what does the U.S. government stand to gain by privatizing one of the most bureaucratic and expensive agencies in the U.S. government?

First of all, the TSA maintains the fourth-largest budget in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, after the U.S. Coast Guard and larger than Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, with a budget of almost $7.8 billion a year.

However, that large budget has still resulted in warehouses full of abandoned screening equipment, issues with detecting threats, and growing wait times at airport security lines.

Many claim that by streamlining the TSA’s main job responsibility, checkpoint screening operations, the Department of Homeland Security can easily reinvest those savings to deal with other security issues, such as regulating electronic devices and baggage.

Reportedly, the savings at those 150 airports could amount to around $115 million each year.

However, by removing the TSA, the U.S. will not completely rid its airports of security altogether. Instead, the U.S. would implement a model similar to what is being used in Canada and most of Europe.

In Canada, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, or CATSA, is responsible for passenger screening and airport security. Reports have found that Canada spends 40 percent less per capita on aviation security.

Additionally, a great number of countries in Europe have privatized their airport screeners and the U.S. even had private screeners at one time before 9/11. Case studies have shown that private screeners are not only more efficient, screening more passengers in less time. One study showed that private screeners processed an average of 65 percent more passengers per employee, mainly due to higher retention rates and better morale.

In contrast, the TSA has been plagued by complaints of low morale and a culture of complacency, as most government organizations do.

The efficiency brought by private screeners results in faster-moving lines at airports and more taxpayer savings.

The U.S. has even placed private screeners in place at 22 airports across the country, such as San Francisco and Kansas City, through the TSA’s Screening Partnership Program. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure then performed a study and found potential savings of $1 billion over 5 years if the top 35 airports in the U.S. operated as efficiently as the private screeners do at airports in the Screening Partnership Program.

By implementing private screeners, the TSA can avoid the conflict of interest it currently maintains. By acting as a regulator for aviation security and enforcer of the rules it sets, it creates quite a dilemma.

By shifting their focus from enforcing its own rules, the TSA can act more as oversight and set standards for improving security.

Second, the TSA has also received much criticism over the past few years due its failure rate in detecting threats. According to cover tests performed by the Department of Homeland Security, TSA screeners failed to detect weapons, drugs, and explosives almost 70 percent of the time.

In 2015, that failure rate was almost at 95 percent.

Lastly, if private screeners can’t meet security standards, they can promptly be fired and replaced. Currently, TSA employees are entitled to certain procedural safeguards that make it difficult to remove them from their government positions, according to TSA lawyers.

The so-called “due process” makes it to where TSA employees are entitled to receive written notice of their termination, entitled to review all evidence against them, and an opportunity to respond to the alleged misconduct.

While the privatization of the TSA is not something that can occur overnight and the issue of aviation security should never be compromised solely for cost-savings, evaluating whether or not the privatization of the TSA could actually benefit the country while still maintaining a rigid security program is something worth considering.

Akhil Dewan

Akhil Dewan

An “AvGeek” for most of his life, Akhil has always been drawn to aviation. If there is an opportunity to read about an airline, fly on a new airplane, or talk to anyone about aviation, he is on it. Akhil has been on over 20 different kinds of aircraft, his favorite being the MD-80. Additionally, he has visited 5 continents and plans to knock out the remaining two (Africa and Antarctica) soon. Based in Dallas, Akhil graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in Management Information Systems and currently works in consulting. His dream is to become an airline executive.
Akhil Dewan