Private Screeners Are At Least As Good If Not Better Than TSA Screeners

Bob Poole compares TSA screeners to private contractors and finds both lacking:

    April saw the release of three reports comparing the performance of TSA screeners and those employed by TSA-managed contractors at the five pilot program airports (now known as the PP5): San Francisco, Kansas City, Rochester, Jackson Hole, and Tupelo. Weighing in were Bearing Point (under contract to TSA), the Inspector General’s Office of the Dept. of Homeland Security, and the General Accounting Office. There was some good news, for those who fought to have this option included in the law that federalized screening. All three studies found that the PP5 screening was as good as or better than TSA screening. And all five of the PP5 airports want to continue going that route. The bad news, from the classified versions of the reports, is that overall screener performance – TSA and private — is still pretty bad. And that certainly raises the question of whether increasing the training, more than doubling the numbers, and tripling the cost of the screening workforce has bought us much of anything.

While airlines increase and decrease service levels all the time, TSA hiring practices don’t follow suit (and private contractors are subject to the same constraints imposed on them). The TSA recognizes the problem of its months-long process controlled from Washington, but won’t reconsider its centralized staffing model.

Private contractors are coming up with innovative workarounds, however.

    Despite the over-centralization noted by all three reports, which greatly hinders innovation by the PP5 contractors, they have still managed to come up with some ways of increasing their effectiveness – for example, by hiring (lower-cost) “baggage handlers” to move checked bags to and from the explosive detection equipment, so that higher-paid baggage screeners can spend their time on actual screening. One of the PP5 companies is developing a program to hire part-time college students as baggage handlers.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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