TSA blocks private airport screeners

Earlier this year, the Transportation Security Administration halted a program that allowed airports to privatize their screeners, citing safety concerns, but airport administrators say TSA stopped the program with little warning and without adequate justification.

The Daily Caller spoke with three Montana airports — Glacier Park International Airport, Missoula International Airport and Bert Mooney Airport — which all said they were encouraged by TSA to apply for the privatization program — known as the Screening Partnership Program (SPP). All three airports’ applications were denied in January.

One airport director even said TSA agents actively protested the airport’s attempt to privatize, going so far as to stand at gates in uniform and tell passengers they would be less safe if the airport joined the SPP.

For its part, TSA said it stopped the program because of security concerns.

“It is critical that TSA retains its ability to operate as a flexible nationwide security network,” a TSA spokesperson wrote. “TSA’s capacity to push out intelligence information to our frontline workforce and quickly change procedures based on threat and intelligence is paramount to effective security. Further expansion of privatized screening will increase the complexity of this process.”

After 9/11, TSA was created and given authority over passenger and bag screening, but airports were allowed by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act to opt out after two years and join the SPP. Sixteen airports in the US currently use privately-contracted screeners.

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Cindi Martin, the director of Glacier Park International Airport, said her airport struggled with adequate staffing under TSA.

“From the beginning the airport experienced staffing cuts, such that it became difficult to process passengers and bags during our summers swells,” she said.

Glacier Park is a seasonal airport, with the majority of its traffic coming in the summer, and Martin said TSA’s models to determine the number of full-time equivalent employees left the airport short-staffed during the busy summer months. The reason, Martin said, was because the models were based on the airport’s October passenger levels — the airport’s slowest month.

In 2007, TSA further cut the number of FTE employees at Glacier Park from around 32 down to 17.

When asked to confirm this, TSA responded: “TSA uses a sophisticated model to determine staffing at individual airports each year, including passenger volume, peak travel seasons, baggage processed, arrival distribution of passengers and bags, flight schedules, new technology, and flight activity. Glacier Park has largely seasonal traffic and its staffing allocation was adjusted accordingly, similar to other seasonal airports.”