TSA Urged to Increase ‘Opt-Out’ of Federal Screening by Airports

The provision “protects and strengthens the rights of airports to select the security screening model in which certified private operators provide screening under federal standards and oversight.”
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House Republican leaders are urging the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to implement a provision of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reform legislation that enables airports to opt out of all-federal security screening.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, contacted TSA Administrator John Pistole regarding the opt-out provision in the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-95).

The opt-out provision—the Screening Partnership Program—“protects and strengthens the rights of airports to select the security screening model in which certified private operators provide screening under federal standards and oversight,” the house leaders say.

“TSA attempted to shut down this cost-effective and more efficient screening model for airports,” Mica said. “The private sector almost always performs more effectively and efficiently than the federal government, and Congress intended airports to have the option between all-TSA screening and private-federal screening. However TSA attempted to thwart the opt-out program established by Congress when it created the agency in 2001.”

During 2011, TSA denied federal-screening opt-out applications from six airports. Those airports are Orlando Sanford International Airport; Springfield-Branson National Airport; Missoula International Airport; Glacier Park International Airport; Bert Mooney Airport; and West Yellowstone Montana Airport (however, West Yellowstone was able to opt out in February 2012). In addition, 16 U.S. airports are operating under the opt-out program, and others are interested, the lawmakers say.

The new FAA law establishes clear criteria for the TSA when considering opt-out applications. The legislation “requires the agency to reconsider applications it baselessly denied,” the House leaders say. It also is designed to ensure the rights of airports to select the private-federal screening model, the committee leaders say.

The benefits for an airport to opt out, as reported by airports and by the investigative work of the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the House Transportation Committee, include greater screening efficiencies and innovation, improved cost effectiveness, better customer service, improved employee morale, and greater flexibility for airports, the lawmakers say.

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