Florida congressman John Mica is still tilting at the Transportation Security Administration’s windmills, but time may be fleeting.
As chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the 10-term Republican legislator wields tremendous power over all aviation matters. One of his stated goals is prying what he calls a “bloated” TSA from under the weight of an even more bloated Department of Homeland Security.
But his top goal is to eliminate the approximately 52,000 TSA screeners. Although most are good people, and take considerable abuse from unhappy passengers, there is nothing about the TSA that is more loathed.
Mica wants to replace TSA screeners with those hired by private security companies. To that end, he was able to insert language in the FAA reauthorization bill that makes it easier for airports to switch to private security firms. The legislation effectively removes barriers that give the TSA broad powers to deny privatization efforts.
“Hopefully, we can get most of the airports into that model [privatization],” says Mica. But he is the first to admit that progress has been tough. Currently, only 16 of the nation’s roughly 450 airline airports employ private screeners, and the TSA—not surprisingly—has dug in its heels.
TSA Administrator John Pistole, the former number-two man at the FBI, claimed at a congressional hearing in February that an internal study conducted by the agency found that private screening costs 3 percent to 9 percent more than federal screening.
That notwithstanding, one of Mica’s arguments in favor of private screeners is that it would be less expensive. “It’s a bloated bureaucracy that is mostly security theater,” he counters. A congressional study has estimated that the nation’s 35 busiest airports would save $1 billion over five years if they adopted private screening.
In a recent article in the Orlando Sentinel, American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) senior executive vice president Todd Hauptli described Mica as “kind of like a dog with a bone with this stuff; he keeps going after it. He’s tenacious.” The AAAE supports Mica’s efforts.
Larry Dale, president of Orlando Sanford International Airport, told the paper that his airport recently resubmitted an application with the TSA that would allow its two-terminal facility to hire private screeners. The article noted that Dale has been a frequent campaign contributor to Mica, whose Florida district begins a few miles up Interstate 4.
Officials at Orlando International Airport (MCO), the region’s largest, said the facility is considering private screeners, although no decision has been made. Their counterparts at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood and Miami International airports said there are no current plans to switch from the TSA.
So, much like Don Quixote, Mica is still facing an uphill fight. Time to summon Sancho Panza?