Orlando International Airport is considering moving to private screeners in place of the TSA. The TSA will hold briefings today saying “that TSA screeners have performed well, received high marks from travelers” and that poor performance is the airport’s fault for not giving them enough room to work.
“We need the airport to provide space for 19 additional lanes to process people in an even more timely manner,” said Jerry Henderson, a TSA federal security director. “But even working with this extreme deficit in space, TSA’s operation at Orlando International is the most efficient TSA screening operation in the nation.”
Remember though that TSA performance is awful. The TSA has failed to meaningfully detect dangerous items going through the checkpoint for years. Their 95% failure rate isn’t new. Ten years ago it was a 91% failure rate. So the TSA isn’t getting better.
TSA Agents in Charlotte Watch News of the TSA’s Failure to Detect Weapons and Bombs, Instead of Searching for Weapons and Bombs (HT: Tocqueville)
But thanks to the Screening Partnership Program — which the TSA and its union has fought to keep limited — we have evidence of exactly how private screening under current rules (which should themselves be improved) work. San Francisco and Kansas City airports have had private screeners since the creation of TSA.
A TSA commissioned study found that private screening in US airports was “as good as or better than” TSA screening. A 2011 Congressional study compared screeners at SFO (private) with those at LAX (TSA).
Comparing private screening at SFO with TSA screening at LAX, they found that because the private SFO screeners process 65% more passengers per screener than TSA screeners at LAX, switching to private screening at LAX would require 867 fewer screeners there, at annual savings of $33 million. This study also found the screener attrition rate to be 60% greater at LAX (13.8%) than at SFO (8.7%), which also drives up costs (and may slow down lanes as newbies learn the ropes after training).
Screening companies have more staff flexibility – can staff up for peak periods “rather than having too many full-timers with nothing to do at non-peak times.” They can “match screener staffing levels to passenger traffic levels, both seasonally and during each day’s peaks and valleys.”
Efficiency arguments aside we need this for accountability. It’s important to separate safety regulation from screening. The TSA shouldn’t be supervising itself. They should be focused on setting standards and monitoring compliance, and shouldn’t be certifying and monitoring themselves. TSA as its own regulator creates conflict and it creates poor performance.
And by the way all screening in Canada is done by government-certified screening companies while most large airports in Europe have government-certified screening companies manning their checkpoints. It’s how screening is done.
There’s plenty of evidence that:
- The TSA performs badly, has for years, and is not getting any better.
- Separating oversight from provision of services is better for security, efficiency, and customer service.
- And all we have to do to see it — not just in other elements of government activity but even directly in screening — is look at airports that have screening companies, here in the U.S., in Canada, and in Europe.