Sacramento Opts Out of TSA Screening

After months of exploration, Sacramento International Airport has decided to replace federally-employed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport screeners with private contractors. This is an opt-out I support.

As a compromise to House Republicans over a decade ago, language in the act creating the TSA allowed for airports to choose to hire private contractors to conduct airport screening rather than the TSA directly. These private contractors were held to the same screening standards as the TSA (in fact they were closely monitored by the TSA) and forced to follow the same protocols.

In what has become known as the Screening Partnership Program, a number of airports have opted-out of TSA screening, including:

  • San Francisco International Airport
  • Kansas City International Airport
  • Greater Rochester International Airport
  • Sioux Falls Regional Airport
  • Jackson Hole Airport
  • Tupelo Regional Airport
  • Key West International Airport
  • Charles M. Schultz-Sonoma County Airport
  • Roswell Industrial Air Center;
  • Seven airports in Montana:
    • Frank Wiley Field
    • Sidney Richland Regional
    • Dawson Community
    • L.M. Clayton
    • Wokal Field
    • Havre City County
    • Lewiston Municipal

Expansion of the Screening Partnership Program stalled until earlier this year, when Congress rebuffed TSA Administrator John Pistole, explicitly shifting the burden of proof from airports (who had to demonstrate why a shift from government-employed to private screeners would be advantageous) to the TSA (who now must demonstrate that a shift from government to private screeners would be harmful in order to deny an application). Major airports like Orlando and now Sacramento have subsequently applied to get rid of the TSA.

Tony Bizjak of the Sacramento Bee covered the story today and asked me for my thoughts. I provided many, but this is what made it to print:

Matthew Klint, an aviation blogger with who focuses on TSA issues, said that, in his experience, private screeners at San Francisco are friendlier than TSA screeners.

But he said San Francisco checkpoint lines seem longer than at the other two airports he frequents, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. He said he suspects San Francisco officials ratchet up security. His belt buckle sets off the alarm at San Francisco, but not at other airports.

"It's almost like they try a little harder," Klint said.

And isn't that the truth? From asking what my name is to turning up that metal detector a little higher, SFO does scrutinize passengers more closely. But the difference is in attitude--knowing they can be easily fired, the screeners at SFO are almost always on good behavior and usually friendly.

SMF passengers will see friendlier service and the airport itself will have more control over personnel, but it will be the same ol' security theatre passengers have become used too--policies that give the illusion of safety to the uninformed, but just slow down travelers who pose no safety risk while treating everyone as guilty until proven innocent.

The decision to privatize reflects more of a disgust with the TSA's current screening protocols and lack of accountability more than anything else, even though changing to private screeners will do nothing, per se, to solve this problem.

It remains my hope that the TSA will come to understand that the current approach to airport screening is a boondoggle to taxpayers that is fooling fewer people each day and not actually keeping us safer. At least a transition to private screening may bring in some fresh perspective, with a goal to mitigate as much as possible the uncomfortable process of airport screening that will continue for the foreseeable future.

Read more here:


That Guy July 22, 2012 at 01:53 pm

So you are suggusting the multiple instances of firearms and explosives found so far are a illusion? And what is your solution to the problem? You can complain and cry all day, but if no solution is suggusted then it remains just that, a whole lot of complaining and crying.

No, I am saying that all we do to prevent those rare instances of firearms or explosives is not worthwhile. I am quite comfortable taking my risks, as someone who flies over 200K miles each year, with a much more muted security paradigm. I've offered a solution--it seems you just don't like it. We can prevent all crime, but we'd then be living in the police state. The cost is not worth it. And the cost for the current way we do airport security, is just not worth it. I value my civil liberties more and our government cannot even afford the bloated TSA.

Do you work for the TSA?

That Guy July 22, 2012 at 02:30 pm

No I do not work for the TSA, I am just a combat veteran and current student that understands why the current security measures are in place. Having suffered the threat of suicide attacks by mentally ill or handicapped indaviduals in both my deployments to Iraq and Afgahnistan, I understand why they screen these passengers who "pose no threat to security." Also having encountered instances where children asking for candy were used as distractions by snipers to stall us enough to aquire a clear shot, I dont think the common american understands the lengths these terrorist will go to to carry out a attack. So I am sure you can understand why this idea of a "muted security paradigm" is rediculouse.

I appreciate your additional comment, but must dispute that you understand why current security measures are in place. Like the Iraq and Afghan wars themselves, you need to follow the money. A good place to start would be to click on the TSA tag above and read through some of my previous posts on the TSA. Or even better, check out what Bruce Schneier has written on the TSA. It will open your eyes.

America is not Iraq or Afghanistan. You seem to forget that. And when we go through the theatrics we do at airport screenings, I cannot think of a clearer sign that the terrorists have won: that they have disrupted our way of life and instilled fear in us.

Sorry--I do not wish to play this game. More die in car accidents each year than will ever die from terrorism. Yet we don't ban cars. More die alcohol-related deaths than from terrorism, but we don't ban alcohol. The list goes on. We don't live in a perfect world or a police state, though we are approaching the latter at U.S. airports. The point is, if anyone really wanted to get something by the TSA, they could--and the TSA can never stop that. So this all becomes just a game of duping the public into feeling safe. But we're no safer than before the TSA was created. And yet we now are deemed guilty until proven innocent--a value I am sure you did not fight for in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So really, the only thing "rediculouse" is the way we currently conduct airport screening. And the common American, even honorable veterans, don't understand it.

That Guy July 22, 2012 at 05:58 pm

I almost miss that bliss you so clearly display, consider yourself lucky that you have never seen the dead body of a child resulting from a suicide attack. Comparing the massicare of thousands of American lives to that of car accidents and the drinking of alcoholic beverages is, yes I will say it "Ridiculous." You talk of police states, be grateful you have never seen the things I have. Tell a Iraqi who lived under the regime of Suddam Hussain about the police state you live under. I am sure he will sympathize with you. And then maybe he will tell you about the tourture chambers that he was in constant fear of. Man up, its just a pat down.

You make far too many assumptions. What if I told you I've been to Iraq as well? And served in the USAF? And seen carnage similar to what you have? Because I have.

Your urge to link the United States to Iraq is a flawed argument. Iraq is not our standard. It has nothing to do with "manning up" and everything to do with respecting the Constitution that both you and I took a vow to protect and defend. When you put emotions aside, and I realize this is difficult to do, you will see that the U.S. airport security paradigm is deeply problematic, from both a Constitutional and practical perspective.

And it is not "bliss" to point out that the ends do not justify the means, that when we sacrifice our principles for the illusion of security, we have neither.

That Guy July 22, 2012 at 06:35 pm

USAF, must have been real rough. See you are talking to a Marine infantryman, so trying to pretend anything you saw in Iraq was similar to what at I have seen will not work here. I am not a civilian who does not know the differance between the two. I dont have to link Iraq to the United States, I am only highlighting the fact that I have seen and know what terrorist are capable of, and to discreadit that terrorist mentality just because it occured in that part of the world is in fact blissful thinking. Reality check, the same terrorist over there are the ones planning attacks over here. The ends do justify the means when it saves a innocent life. Quit crying, take your shoes off, or ride a bus. Its that simple.

Wow, a knock on my brach from a Marine infantryman. What a surprise. The difference in our choice of branches helps to explain the difference in our perspectives. One reason I chose USAF over USMC was because I am not a docile person. Free(er) thinking is encouraged in the USAF.

The ends do not justify the means when the Constitution is thrown out the window in the name of "security". But if you wish to live in your blissful dream world that because you've fought on the ground in Iraq with a Marine uniform, you are somehow more capable than I am at commenting on U.S. airport security, the joke is on you.

We see things differently and I am done arguing. But please do check out Bruce Schneier. The truth will set you free.

Semper Fi.

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