Airport Security Screening Delays

Calls to privatize process intensify over long wait times

If you're traveling by air this summer, you'll join an expected upsurge in passengers that could really slow things down again at security checkpoints.

It's too late now for Congress to make a difference.

But there are moves under way in Washington to expand privatizing of security screening.

With the Transportation Security Administration understaffed and its expedited screening program undersold, long lines at airports have become an unpleasant "new normal".

So TSA's top critics are trying to light a fire under the agency to allow more airports to replace its officers with private screeners.

Studies show that at the 22 airports with private security -- San Francisco and Kansas City being the largest -- screeners have been more efficient at processing passengers and successful at detecting prohibited items than TSA officers.

“It’s a roadmap that's already been drawn,” says U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-49th District). “All we have to do is go from 22 to maybe 200 locations. We're not suggesting that every TSA location, overnight, be obsoleted."

Issa, former chairman of the House Oversight Committee and still a senior member of the panel, is thinking of an even broader overhaul in the long run.

"Quite candidly, let's de-nationalize airports,” he told NBC 7 in an interview Wednesday. “Let's make the airlines and the local community part of fixing the problem."

In Issa’s opinion, TSA has been "slow-rolling" applications from airports looking to become the next wave in the agency’s "Screening Partnership Program" -- an initiative that a TSA union leader told the Chicago Tribune “would be placing lives "at risk" so inexperienced private corporations can place profits over passengers."

That stance brought a dismissive retort from a Boston area air traveler who landed at Lindbergh Field Wednesday.

"They don't want the private guys from taking their jobs, so they're going to say whatever they can, you know?” said Steven Zdonek, a resident of Abington, MA. “I think it should happen, based on what's going on in the world today."

TSA links a lot of what's going on at the airports to passengers bringing more and more carry-on items -- while not enough air travelers are buying into the agency's "Pre-Check" expedited screening program.

Those who have swear by it.

"It's not only to get into the airport, access the boarding gates,’ said Karen Dumonet, a resident of New York City’s Queens borough, “it's also to exit the airport once you've retrieved your suitcase, you're through."

Whether or not money's an object for infrequent fliers, the airlines themselves hoping to help shorten the process as they can, through seasonal hires.

But as for fully privatizing screening?

"Would it be a good idea to perhaps look into it more closely, and then come up with a decision?” Brooklyn resident Sy Herman asked, rhetorically. “Because right now, I couldn't tell you which way to go."

Either way, to whatever extent TSA is privatized and downsized, it's not as though it'll disappear from radar.

"You're still going to have Homeland Security looking at threat assessments around the world,” Issa explained. “Working with other governments to develop policies between our nations. You're still going to have them making sure the local contractors meet a high standard."

Issa says the House Oversight and Transportation Committees are getting ready to convene hearings on the issues.

Congress has just granted TSA $34 million in early appropriations for overtime and hiring of nearly 800 screeners, to reach the agency's authorized maximum of 42,500.

Still, union leaders say 6,000 more are needed.

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