Josh Lew | May 10, 2016 3:00 PM ET
It's Time To Privatize Airport Security
Over the past few months, there has been a shift in the kind of complaints leveled at the TSA. In years past, criticism from fliers focused on things like overly-invasive searches and impolite agents. Now, airports and airlines are joining in because of the disruptions caused by long checkpoint wait times. These industry voices give this kind of anti-TSA sentiment a bit more credibility.
It is beginning to seem like the best way to solve the growing list problems associated with the TSA is to drop the agency altogether. That is not a farfetched idea at all. Private security firms already screen passengers at SFO, Kansas City International and a number of smaller airports around the country. Other hubs, including the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson, have threatened to privatize (but they haven’t acted on these threats yet).
Privatization is not a new idea. In 2014, a House panel led by Rep. John Mica pushed the idea, saying it was time to fix the “the mess we've created." Two years later, the "mess" remains and the fixing has not yet occurred.
Now that industry stakeholders are starting to speak up, momentum for change is growing. It is time for pro-privatization decision-makers to take advantage of this and once again try to push out the TSA.
Why is dumping the TSA and going private a good idea? First of all, there seems to be a pattern to the way the TSA responds to criticism. They do just enough to avoid getting the boot, but they seem incapable of making real improvements on their own.
Private security firms would still have to follow government-mandated screening procedures, so the level of security would be exactly the same as it is now under the TSA. However, performance would matter more to these contractors because they would want to keep their contract. Because of this, they would put a premium on performance as far as screening and security. Also, they would have an incentive to keep flier complaints down by adopting a friendlier, more service-oriented approach to their interactions with passengers.
And then there is the bottom line: private firms would cost the government less than the perpetually over-budget TSA.
When you start weighing the pros and cons, the switch to private contractors seems like an obvious decision, especially given the TSA's recent checkpoint delays.
Of course, any sort of government decision about the issue will be slow in coming. This means that the most likely next step would occur if (or is it when?) a major airport like ATL decides they have had enough and hires a private contractor.
Until then, we are all going to be stuck in line.
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