It seems that Fox News commentator John Stossel has enlisted in Rep. John Mica’s war to neutralize or minimize the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The television journalist reported last month that when the Florida Republican was helping to create the TSA, he added a provision that allows airports to “opt out” of federalized security.
San Francisco International Airport took advantage of that and hired Covenant Aviation Security, a private screening company. “It was a good move,” Stossel wrote in an accompanying article. “A leaked 2007 TSA study found that San Francisco’s private screeners were twice as good at detecting fake bombs as TSA screeners. Passengers at [the airport] have told us ‘screeners here are friendlier’ and ‘more helpful.’”
According to Stossel, private screeners also work more quickly, and lines are shorter. Company managers move screeners around to minimize wait times. He also reported that a 2011 House Transportation Committee report found that, in the time it takes TSA screeners at Los Angeles International Airport to process 100 passengers, San Francisco screeners process 165.
“That’s partly because Covenant has an incentive to do well and retain its contract,” Stossel wrote. “So it keeps its screeners sharp by staging competitions. A screener can win up to $2,000 if he is good at identifying items in an X-ray machine or finding contraband in suitcases.”
Dozens of other airports have asked the TSA to let them switch to private screening companies, but the agency said no to almost all of them, giving only one reason: “There is no clear advantage to the federal government.”
“Give me a break,” Stossel retorted. “I bet McDonald’s would like to tell Burger King: ‘You may not open a store there. There’s no clear advantage.’” But he added, “Fortunately, Congress passed an aviation bill in January [FAA reauthorization] that includes new language, supported by Mica, which requires the TSA to at least provide an explanation.”
Mica has long complained that the TSA does not make us safer. He points out that Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber,” was stopped by alert passengers, not by the TSA. The father of the “underwear bomber” warned the government about his son, but the TSA still allowed him to fly with a bomb in his underwear. Only passengers prevented him from detonating it.
After the Times Square Bomber’s attack failed in 2010, Mica revealed that the man “ordered his ticket on the way to JFK, went through TSA [and] got on the airplane.”
Stossel reported that the TSA has become a wasteful bureaucracy. It installed nearly 100 “puffer” machines at airports and planned to install many more, for $150,000 each, to detect explosives. “You won’t see them at an airport today, because the machines didn’t work,” the report said. “Rep. Mica says the TSA paid the Department of Defense $600 apiece to destroy them.”