Ford Sticks With Federal Screeners

    GRAND RAPIDS — The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced late last month new guidelines that allow U.S. airports to choose private screening operators for airline passengers, though screening at all U.S. airports will remain under federal supervision and authority.

    Under the new Screening Partnership Program, airports have permission to request an opt-out program that would allow the TSA to switch to private contract screeners instead of federal security screeners.

    “The federal government’s role will in fact be more focused on setting high standards, and on carefully auditing the screeners’ operations and detection performance,” Congressman John L. Mica, R-Florida, chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, said upon announcing the change.

    Mica said managing the recruitment, training and deployment of 45,000 screeners from Washington, D.C., “has proven impossible to meet the changing schedules and provide the necessary flexibility” for the nation’s 440 commercial airports.

    “This is a positive, evolutionary step in decentralizing the Soviet-style federal hiring, training and scheduling system that was structured after 9/11.”

    The subcommittee maintains that private screening contractors will have “considerable flexibility” in recruitment, assessment, hiring, training, procurement, scheduling and customer service. Airports that wish to make the change have to apply between Nov. 19 and Dec. 10 to participate in the program.

    The transition to operations with private contractors is expected in late 2005. TSA will fund both federal and privately contracted screeners from the same budget, according to program guidelines.

    Airports can request that the TSA seek private firms to take over screening operations and the agency would bid and manage the contract, explained Kent County Aeronautics Director James Koslosky.

    Gerald R. Ford International Airport isn’t interested in the option.

    “At our airport the screening functions are working,” Koslosky said. “We don’t have a problem. So we’re not interested in opting out. We don’t gain anything by opting out.”

    The TSA still controls the contract, oversees training and monitors screening operations, he pointed out.

    Koslosky said some small airports that have only a handful of flights a day might find private security screening simpler or might be interested in setting up their own private security firm and taking on the responsibility themselves.

    “We don’t have any interest in it here at all. Quite frankly, I’m dumbfounded why some airports want to opt out. Nothing changes. All you go from is federal employees to contract employees.”           

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