Private vs. Public Airport Screeners: Who Gets to Touch Your Junk?
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently decided that it will not allow any more airports to adopt the private security option for passenger screening. This decision was made as part of the TSA’s rejection of a request from the Springfield-Branson Airport to use private screeners. Sen. Roy Blunt is introducing a measure that would require the TSA to allow private screening companies to operate in airports that want them. Who is right here? Should the TSA be the only entity allowed to screen passengers?
I think the key issue here is the idea of competition. In a report for San Diego, the authors at Reason put it well (emphasis added):
“Taxpayers win whenever there is competition, even when the competition is won by public sector providers” said Adam B. Summers, policy analyst at Reason Foundation and co-author of the report. “They get more accountability, better results, and lower costs. […]”
Private screening companies are used at only 16 airports in the county. Springfield-Branson would have been no. 17. The very existence of competition brings a greater degree of efficiency to the TSA, even if it continues to do the screening in the vast majority of American airports. I know we aren’t used to thinking about the terms “government employees” and “complacency” together, but if the presence of competition in a small number of airports serves to reduce the TSA’s complacency, that benefits all of us.
One six-year-old report found that private screeners did a better job than government employees, but another report said that there are no cost savings because the TSA still overseees the private security companies, which operate according to the same requirements, rules, etc.
I believe the real reason for this denial of the private screening option has more to do with organized labor. From the KMOV Channel 4 report on this story:
The American Federation of Government Employees, the nation’s largest federal employee union, has praised [TSA Administrator John] Pistole’s decision.
TSA employees will be deciding on union representation shortly. Government unions are generally the most ardent opponents of any type of privatization.
Anytime I write anything about Branson, I always think, “What would Yakov say?” So, here is my best attempt at a Yakov Smirnoff–style joke about this situation:
In USA, people worry they the screeners will touch their junk as they board the plane. In Russia, people worry about the plane itself because the whole plane is made of junk!
Fire off better jokes in the comments, if you dare!