You’ve probably heard that Transportation Security Administration agents are calling in sick — the “blue flu” — as they are required to work but aren’t being paid during the partial government shutdown. But at some airports, this isn’t happening. Take San Francisco International, which uses private screeners who are still getting paid. It’s operating as normal.
Indeed, 22 U.S. airports have opted out of the TSA model and use private screeners. Canada and most airports in Europe also use private screeners — and for good reason. Yes, after 9/11, America and the world clearly needed to do something to secure airplanes and airports, but the idea of having government responsible for all parts of aviation security should be rethought.
From a purely good-government perspective, the TSA has an inherent conflict of interest. It is the regulator and the regulated entity. The TSA sets the security screening rules, and the TSA also employs thousands of agents to carry out the screening. The natural tendency of any organization is to protect itself. But Americans want the government to protect them, not the TSA’s budget and personnel levels.
As proven by other nations and the opt-out airports here at home, privatizing screening services can mean screening that is cheaper, more accountable and as secure as a government-run model.
This isn’t a return to pre-9/11 security, either. The TSA should remain as the setter of security rules and conduct strict oversight. But instead of government employees doing the screening, private companies would provide the manpower to do so.
Let’s face it. The government isn’t good at handling personnel issues, but the private sector is. In other countries and at opt-out airports, these contractors better manage their personnel, make a profit and still do so for less than the TSA model. And if a private contractor screws up, the TSA can hold it accountable and replace it with another contractor.
It’s time to move to a private model for aviation security.
This piece originally appeared in USA Today