Should Private Contractors Take Over Airport Security?

Photo (cc) by Shamanic Shift

Some members of Congress have threatened to privatize airport security if federal screeners don’t start treating travelers with more courtesy.

Privatizing government functions is usually a Republican battle cry. But even Democrats think Transportation Security Administration screeners aren’t very nice.

“When we mistreat [travelers] by barking orders at them as if they are cattle, not people, we actually diminish spirit of cooperation,” Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said, according to USA Today. “I’ve had it, and I think a lot of the public has had it. There is no excuse for it.”

How did we end up with the TSA? A little history, courtesy of The New York Times:

Airlines or airports used to have private security companies to screen passengers. But questions were raised in 2001, after the attacks of Sept. 11, and federal inquiries found that many private companies had hired untrained security guards. The TSA was established, taking over screening at all airports.

But airports were also allowed to opt out with TSA permission. Sixteen U.S. airports have private security, which is supervised by the TSA. The largest among them are San Francisco and Kansas City, Mo., while others are tiny.

A law passed in 2012 made it easier for airports to make the switch. Said the New York Daily News back then, “In recent years, however, the TSA has been hit with harsh criticism for intrusive searches and by tea party politicians who say it costs too much — especially now that the screeners are unionizing.”

But it’s far from certain that private security is better or saves money. One government study says it does and another study disputes that.

Says NPR, “And aviation analyst Robert Mann, a former airline executive, is dubious about returning to what he says was a fragmented system before the Sept. 11 attacks.”

What do you think? Would travelers and taxpayers be better off if the screeners worked for private companies?

Or does this bring to mind horror stories about private prisons, which don’t save taxpayers money, or the unbelievable amounts of taxpayer money spent to privatize the military? Are you among those who wonder why taxpayer money is being used to profit private companies for services the government normally provides?

What has been your experience with the TSA? Mine has been pleasant for the most part, and never awful. I enjoy one screener in particular who is always cheerful and funny, for instance, telling me I can keep my granola bar but that he will confiscate Twinkies.

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