Congressman John Mica keeps ratcheting up his war against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which he shoulders the blame for creating in the aftermath of 9/11. And judging from anti-TSA sentiments at the recent National Air Transportation Association Air Charter Summit, he probably can enlist a lot of spearchuckers to help win the battle.
In a news conference June 3, the Florida Republican released a House Transportation Committee investigative report that said airport passenger screening using private security screeners under federal supervision is dramatically more efficient and less costly than the all-federal screening model.
“If the nation’s top 35 airports opted out [of TSA screening],” Mica said, “we could save taxpayers $1 billion over the next five years.” The report, titled “TSA Ignores More Cost-Effective Screening Model,” compares costs for the two passenger screening models.
A private-federal screening option, known as the Screening Partnership Program (SPP), was established in the “Aviation Transportation Security Act” after 9/11. This program enabled airports to “opt out” and request the use of private screening contractors under the TSA standards, supervision and oversight.
Beginning in 2002, five airports operated under the private-federal screening model. That number has increased to 16, with many other airports requesting to use this option. But much to Mica’s chagrin, the TSA in January decided to pull the plug on allowing more airports to opt out, despite the law and Congress’ intent that airports have the legal right to use the SPP.
Mica, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, clearly was piqued when TSA Administrator John Pistole refused to appear before the panel to explain why it has taken more than six years to create a congressionally mandated universal pilot’s license. Not content to merely prick a bureaucrat, Mica then got into an internecine squabble with Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, over who should have jurisdiction over the TSA.
Since the TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), King’s committee currently has control of TSA oversight. As a result, it is the only transportation agency that Mica can’t control.
Earlier this month, Mica introduced an amendment to cut $270 million from the TSA’s budget for security screeners, and require the agency to hire private companies to perform airport screenings. That would elbow the DHS out of the mix, and Mica could make a case for his committee to assume jurisdiction.
With nearly 50,000 TSA screeners and an $8 billion budget, that is an inviting bulls-eye for Mica.