Members of Congress have said it before, and they are saying it again: It’s time for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to allow new members into the Security Partnership Program (SPP), the nearly eight-year-old program allowing U.S. airports to opt out of federal screening and instead privatize their security forces.
In a letter to TSA Administrator John Pistole this week, Representatives John Mica (R–FL), Darrel Issa (R–CA), and Jason Chaffetz (R–UT) wrote:
Airport operators have expressed tremendous interest in the SPP and that expansion beyond the small fraction of the U.S. airports that currently participate in the SPP will allow the TSA to focus on security and oversight.… It is important that TSA take steps to immediately reopen the SPP.
Congress first mandated that U.S. airports be given the ability to opt out of federal screening in 2001 with the passage of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. Yet despite these longstanding instructions, Pistole announced early last year that the SPP would no longer be expanded to additional airports. To justify his decision, Pistole claimed that he did not see “any clear or substantial advantage to doing so at this time.”
No clear or substantial advantage? Many would beg to differ. In fact, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure last year reported that U.S. taxpayers would save “$1 billion over five years if the Nation’s top 35 airports operated as efficiently as [San Francisco International Airport] does under the SPP model.” A 2007 independent assessment found that “SPP airports’ overall performance results are equal to or better than those delivered by non-SPP.”
As a private-sector alternative to government screening, SPP provides an opportunity for notable cost savings at no apparent cost to security while allowing TSA to get out of the personnel business and truly focus on security. So what is TSA waiting for?
In February, Members of Congress passed an amendment on the Federal Aviation Administration authorization act reiterating their call to allow airports to opt out of federal screening, requiring that the TSA consider all applications to the SPP program. It’s due time that TSA listen.