U.S. Rep. John Mica turned up the heat on the Transportation Security Administration Tuesday, prodding the agency to allow more airports to privatize their screening operations.
Speaking at Orlando-Sanford International Airport, whose "opt-out" application was denied by the TSA last year, Mica said the federal agency "attempted to shut down this cost-effective and more efficient screening model for airports."
Sixteen airports operate under the Screening Partnership Program, and others are interested in doing so, but Mica said the TSA has dragged its feet.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, states that the TSA "shall approve" opt-out applications when newly enacted standards are met. This puts the burden of proof on the agency to establish legitimate reasons why any airports request should be denied.
Mica, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said the law establishes "clear standards by which opt-out applications must be fairly and equitably measured, allows airports greater input regarding the preferred security vendor, requires a timely review of applications by the TSA, and requires that the TSA provide transparency and constructive feedback to the airports and Congress regarding each application and the basis for any decision made."
It's not a new issue for Mica, who has been feuding with the TSA for more than a year.,
In a letter sent to TSA Administrator Joe Pistole on Tuesday, the Orlando Republican stated:
"It is important that TSA take steps to immediately reopen the SPP, reissue guidelines in compliance with the law, and begin the process of converting the screening program from its current model to the SPP operations."
Mica asked Pistole to provide his committee with a "timetable and outline to achieve this transition."
The letter was co-signed by Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations.
A report released by the Transportation Committee in 2011 found the opt-out program to be 65 percent more efficient than TSA-run operations and would cut taxpayer costs by 42 percent. If the nations top 35 airports opted out, taxpayers would save $1 billion over five years, the study found.
Appearing with Orlando-Sanford Airport President Larry Dale on Tuesday, Mica said the 2012 law "establishes clear criteria for TSA when considering opt-out applications, requires the agency to reconsider applications it baselessly denied, and ensures the right of Orlando Sanford and all airports to select this better private-federal screening model to save hard-earned taxpayers money."
The private sector can always perform 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 Congress established in 2001 when it created the TSA," the congressman charged.
Mica went on to call the TSA "a bloated bureaucracy of more than 65,000 federal workers with a track record of security blunders and failures."
This agency has lost its way and has strayed from its security mission. It is top-heavy with 9,656 administrators in the field and 3,986 headquarters staff in Washington, D.C., making an average of $103,852 per year.
"This agency must get out of the personnel business and into the security business," he concluded.
In a response issued Tuesday evening, the TSA stated:
"Administrator Pistole is committed to ensuring that TSA is a counter-terrorism agency that provides the most effective security, in the most efficient manner possible.
"Currently, 16 airports are participating in the Screening Partnership Program. An application from a 17th airport, West Yellowstone in Montana, was approved in January and TSA is moving forward with the contracting process."
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341.