Private Screeners Won’t Save Money, TSA’s Pistole Says

(Corrects Rogers’s state in the 10th paragraph.)

Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole defended his resistance to letting security contractors resume screening at more U.S. airports, as called for under a bill awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature.

Screening costs at the 16 U.S. airports that currently employ private companies are 3 percent to 9 percent higher than those using TSA employees, Pistole said today.

“I didn’t see any clear and substantial advantage to expanding the program,” Pistole, testifying at a hearing of a House Homeland Security panel, said of the agency’s evaluation of previous applications from airports to return to private screening.

Pistole answered criticism by John Mica, chairman of the House transportation committee, who proposed the requirement to allow more private screeners. Mica, a Florida Republican, attended the hearing to question Pistole even though he’s not a member of the Homeland Security panel.

TSA has spent too much money on recruiting and has had too much turnover among personnel, Mica said.

“No one is saying do away with the federal government,” Mica said. “We want to get you into the security business and out of the personnel business.”

Private Screeners

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, airlines were responsible for aviation security and hired security companies to operate checkpoints. The law that created the TSA put it in charge of security while requiring five airports to have private screeners under a two-year pilot program.

The number later grew to 16. Pistole halted new participation in January 2011.

The U.S. agency must let airports switch to private companies for screeners unless it can show the move wouldn’t be cost-effective and would be detrimental to security, according to the legislation, which the Senate cleared yesterday. The House approved the measure Feb. 3.

Pistole, under questioning from Representative Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican, said the agency will have to turn over screening at a “substantial number” of airports under the pending law.

Democrats on the panel questioned why Republicans wanted to move toward private screeners if the government wouldn’t save money and passengers would have to go through the same steps at the airport they do now.

“The 9-11 day of horror was partly on the watch of privatized screeners,” said Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat. “I see nothing that’s changed today.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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