Pistole: Congress ushering in era of private airport security

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Congress has shifted the burden of proof to the Transportation Security Administration when the agency wants to deny a private sector application to take over airport security screening, TSA Administrator John Pistole told the House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security Feb. 7.

The shift in policy comes from a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill (H.R. 658) approved by the House and Senate that President Obama is expected to sign. 

Currently, private companies can apply to carry out security screening operations at individual airports, and TSA approves applications when companies demonstrate that they offer a clear advantage over federal screeners.

But that will change once President Obama signs the new law, which gives TSA 120 days after they receive an application to approve or deny it. If TSA denies an application, it must provide a written report to the airport and Congress that explains what findings led to the denial, the results of any cost or security analyses TSA did and recommendations for how to address the reasons for denial.

Pistole called this a "compressed time schedule" but noted that the strain it causes will depend on the number of applications.

The bill lets TSA waive the requirements for companies that have foreign parent companies.

Contractors currently conduct screening at 16 airports nationwide, including San Francisco International, and TSA recently approved a small Montana airport as the 17th.

The Government Accountability Office has said that the performance of TSA and private screeners is roughly the same, subcommittee Chariman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) pointed out. 

The ranking member, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), argued against privatization and dismissed the endeavor as "humoring small businesses" while security is at stake and federal employees are performing capably.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimonies and webcast available)
- go to the H.R. 658 THOMAS page 

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