Less than a week ago it was discovered that Miguel Southwell, the general manager of the most heavily traveled airport in the world, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, signaled it is his intent, unless drastic changes are made in the TSA in Atlanta in the next two months, to become a member of the TSA’s Screening Partnership Program, thereby privatizing airport security in Atlanta. You’re unlikely to hear any great fanfare about this in the media, though in my opinion it should warrant more attention, especially for those of us, and we are by far the majority, who think TSA is a failure and needs to be completely reformed, if not outright abolished. The SPP is the best hope for that abolition, and sadly, no one has any idea what it is. Well, since the busiest airport in the world might well soon become a member of the SPP, what better time is there to tell people about this great initiative that could be the death of TSA?
The origins of the Screening Partnership Program (SPP) were actually part of the law that created the TSA somewhat ironically. Included in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), the law that created the TSA, was a provision that 5 airports be allowed to use private security contractors, rather than TSA officers, as a sort of pilot program to see how private security would work compared to the TSA. Those 5 airports were San Francisco International, Kansas City International, Greater Rochester International, Jackson Hole, and Tupelo. In 2004 this pilot program was formally adopted as the Screening Partnership Program. Since that time another dozen and a half or so airports have joined the ranks of those original 5, though something like 95% of all travel is still done through traditional TSA airports.
It should be noted that if not for the efforts of the Obama Administration, participation in this program, given the TSA’s unpopularity, would likely be much larger today. However, it took some time for the TSA to become as unpopular as they are today, and unfortunately, in 2008, Barack Obama became president. Since that time, this program has been diminished and put on the back burner as much as possible, so much so, so that most people have never even heard of it.
So how do we expand this program and get airport security out of the hands of bureaucrats in Washington? All that needs to be done for an airport to become a member of the SPP, to privatize their airports security officers, and to opt out of being TSA, is for an airport director to formally petition the TSA. As long as it can be shown that 1) security is not lessened, and 2) costs would not increase, the TSA, as of 2012 has to accept an airports application. That’s because in 2011, then TSA administrator John Pistole, officially adopted a policy that no more airports would be accepted for the time being in the SPP. In response to that announcement, the congress then passed a law stating TSA had to accept applications if the above two criteria were met. Unfortunately, there’s a 1000 ways for a bureaucracy such as the TSA to drag its feet on applications and twist data to make it look like those two criteria cannot be met by an airport. What we need is a SPP-friendly administrator.
Prior to Administrator Pistole’s announcement that there would be a succession of all applications for the SPP, not that many airports were applying for SPP status, in all likelihood because they knew few airports were being granted SPP status even if they applied. In short, again, the current administration is not SPP-friendly. If and when that changes, and we get a SPP-friendly administration in office, who can appoint an SPP-friendly director, the real heavy lifting of privatizing and doing away with the TSA as structured might just begin. If and when that happens, its going to start with the SPP. There’s no other workable avenue I can see for reform, except through the SPP, save an outright abolition of the TSA, which is highly unlikely.
In the meantime, people need to know what the SPP is, so that when and if we do get an SPP-friendly administration in office in 2016, we can finally start the process of real reform within the TSA and hit the ground running, via the SPP.
It should be noted finally, in all fairness, that even if an airport is accepted into the SPP, and privatizes their security force, TSA SOP’s are still employed under TSA supervision. People will likely not know the difference frankly. So why even become SPP!!?? To elaborate briefly, though another article could be written just on this, there are a host of reasons to become SPP, including having a security force in the airport that are not 1) federal employees who are 2) unionized and 3) pensioned, for starters. Because of that, being SPP means private screeners can actually be disciplined and fired with much more ease. It saves our government money, and it puts the hiring and hiring of airport screeners under the supervision of a private company, rather than TSA.
I’m all-in for the SPP. Its a start. Its the only way I see being able to chip away at the TSA’s power and reform it. First we wrestle the workforce out of their hands. That’s step one. That’s what the SPP does. Then we can work at passing laws to give those private security contractors more authority and autonomy than is currently permitted for them to perform the task of protecting our airways…perhaps even with shorter lines, due to a change in SOP’s and better employees, or maybe even a friendlier workforce, or both, you know, since those are two things that private companies may actually worry about, else they lose their contract with the airport. Well, we can all dream. The TSA not existing anymore, as currently structured…that’s one of my dreams. And its becoming more possible every day, as demonstrated just a few days ago in Atlanta.