TSA Cooked The Books For Years On Costs, Federal Vs Private Screening


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TSA Cooked The Books For Years On Costs, Federal Vs Private Screening

Mike Mitchell

March 14, 2011 - The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a letter to Transportation Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL) that confirms the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has used faulty data and withheld information when evaluating and comparing the costs of the all-federal screening model and an alternative federal-private screening program. 

The Screening Partnership Program was established in the Aviation Transportation Security Act (ATSA) after September 11, 2001, to enable airport authorities to ?opt-out? of all-federal screening and instead use private screening contractors under federal standards, supervision and oversight. Previously, TSA has misleadingly claimed that the cost of the privatized screening program is at least 17 percent higher than the cost of using screeners who are TSA employees. 

?In essence, TSA cooked the books to try to eliminate the federal-private screening program,? Mica said. ?GAO found that TSA ignored critical data relating to costs. In fact, according to TSA?s own revised cost study, the cost differential between the two screening models is closer to three percent, likely within the margin of error,? Mica said.

?And that still doesn?t account for various other ignored factors, including the cost taxpayers incur from TSA?s high attrition rate and the full cost of TSA?s bloated and unnecessary bureaucratic overhead. ?I am investigating the full cost differential between the two screening models, and I believe the federal-private program model will prove to be less expensive and provide the best model for U.S. aviation security,? Mica said.

TSA has only accounted for a fraction of their personnel located at privatized airports, which result in duplicative costs that still have not been factored into estimates. Mica also said the federal-private screening model, through previous GAO evaluations, has performed significantly better than or equal to the all-government model. 

Additional unaccounted-for TSA costs are incurred each time the costly National Deployment Force, TSA?s mobile screening unit, is used to fill staffing gaps at airports. TSA cannot keep employees at some locations, so expensive screening personnel are deployed to fill in.


This unit was first created to help TSA federalize aviation security for passenger screening in 2002. The mobile screening unit is staffed by TSA screeners and is now responsible for supporting airports during special circumstances such as seasonal demands and emergencies. Each time the unit is deployed TSA must pay costs related to per diem lodging and meals, travel to and from the airport in need, as well as other incentives. 

?This mobile screening unit is grossly misused today, mostly filling staffing gaps caused by low attendance and high attrition,? Mica continued. ?Incredibly, of the five airports that were recently denied their applications to the federal-private screening model, at least three were staffed by the mobile screening unit either permanently or for months at a time. With our limited security resources, it is simply irresponsible to pass these costs on to taxpayers when there is a viable, more cost-effective alternative.? 

On January 28th, TSA Administrator Pistole denied the pending contract screening program requests of five airports and announced a hold on expanding the program beyond the current 16 airports, stating that there was not ?any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time.? 

Among the reasons cited by airports to justify participation in the federal-private screening model are poor customer service from TSA, poor flexibility and scheduling of TSA screeners resulting in long lines during peak times, unnecessarily high cost structures incurred by TSA because of the use of the mobile screening unit, and the ability to lower costs for the airport authority. 

?The investigative staff of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will continue to review TSA?s distortion and misstatement of facts used in the denial of each of these five airports? participation in the federal-private screening program. There will also be a thorough examination of the metrics, if any, the TSA used to determine if a ?clear or substantial advantage? existed and what the implications are for the future,? Mica said.


?I have also asked GAO to continue to review what other factors gave the all-government model a cost advantage. It is my intent to make certain that TSA cannot arbitrarily deny any future application from an airport to participate in the private screening program. ?I am confident that the private sector can not only perform better, but do so at a lower cost to the taxpayers,? Mica added.

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