Sacramento-area fliers should beware of a long-standing scheme by airport officials to privatize aviation security at Sacramento International Airport.
Banking on the notion that people have short memories, airport authorities want to do away with the post-9/11 screening system operated by the Transportation Security Administration a system which has so far proven itself 100 percent successful in preventing terrorist attacks on passenger airplanes in the United States.
Instead, Sacramento County Airport System Director Hardy Acree wants to return to the failed system in which low-paid, poorly trained screeners were set up by private security contractors more focused on maximizing profits than protecting the American people. As a result, 19 hijackers armed with box cutters were able to board four airplanes on Sept. 11, 2001.
It is true that since aviation security was federalized more than a decade ago, TSA has been burdened at times by poor management decisions, including employee mistreatment, and until recently, a denial of fundamental rights to transportation security officers. Despite these obstacles, security officers have stayed resolutely focused on their mission: to protect the traveling public. The record is clear they are doing an outstanding job in keeping air travel secure.
In the more than 10 years since TSA's founding, aviation security has steadily improved. These days, at Sacramento and elsewhere, lines usually move more swiftly, screeners treat passengers with more respect and courtesy, and travelers can feel more confident than ever in their security. Though the experience is not hassle-free, most fliers see it as a small price to pay for safety.
So why do Sacramento airport authorities want to fix what isn't broken? Do they really want to subject passengers to risks comparable to those that existed before 9/11? TSA Administrator John Pistole, former director of the FBI, has testified to his concerns about the possibly negative impact to airport security using corporate screeners over a single, unified federal workforce. If an airport were to have corporate screeners, TSA management would remain in place but would not be allowed to share sensitive intelligence with those corporations. Further, in an emergency situation, corporate screeners could not be deployed as timely and effectively as TSA officers could.
For some officials, the lure of crony capitalism has gotten in the way of common sense. Private security companies are spending liberally to regain the chance to profit off the taxpayers' dime, just like they did in the good old days.
The corporate lobbying machine is being aided and abetted by anti-government ideological zealots who never accepted the idea that the public sector can do anything better than the private sector, and who want to dismantle or privatize any government program they can, whether or not it actually works. Acree himself, who has been pushing privatization for years, is a member of two industry groups the Airports Council International-North America and the American Association of Airport Executives that are lobbying aggressively to put airport screening back in the hands of greedy corporations.
Acree has had some beefs with TSA in the past most notably a period eight years ago when wait times at the airport got too long but TSA responded swiftly, added staff and solved the problem. The facts provide ample evidence of TSA's flexibility and commitment to service. Moreover, wait times at San Francisco International Airport one of five airports currently using private screeners as part of a test program are far longer. Further, in J.D. Power and Associates most recent survey of the top airports, based largely on screening and customer service, the top 10 airports were all federalized with government security officers. Don't forget, many of the objections about TSA screening protocols, pat-down procedures, etc. would remain in effect with a corporate screening workforce.
But why let the facts get in the way of one's opinions?
The evidence is clear: TSA works. Security officers are far more qualified and far more professional than pre-9/11 screeners. When you outsource aviation security to the lowest bidder, you get what you pay for. That might be a good approach when it comes to procuring pencils and paper, but is that really what we want when it comes to protecting the lives of the American people?
Let's stick with what works. Keep TSA at Sacramento International Airport.