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January 23 2019

Is the Partial Government Shutdown an Argument for Privatizing Airport Passenger Screening?

by Charlotte Hays

If you've come to hate flying, the partial government shutdown will only make you hate it more.

Seems that ten percent of the nation's Transportation (TSA) agents currently are absent from their posts (as compared to around three percent for the same period last year).

Reportedly, some agents are doing temporary work that, unlike their real jobs, is sending a check. But it makes lines at airports longer.  

Air traffic controllers are working without pay and without their customary support staff, who are deemed "inessential."

If this state of affairs continues, somebody is bound to get ideas: maybe it is not such a good idea to have the government running these services.

Christian Britschgi, an associate editor at Reason, entertains just this idea.

In "Shutdown-Induced Bottlenecks at Nation's Airports Shows Folly of Letting the ederal Government Run Things," he writes:

While it's difficult to feel any sympathy at all for the professional privacy violators at the TSA, the fact that vital air traffic controllers are not getting paid is concerning to say the least.

It's also an unfortunate consequence of federalizing so much of crucial airport operations, says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation expert at the Reason Foundation [which publishes the Reason website].

The immediate problem with this, says Feigenbaum, is that these functions are funded on a discretionary basis, meaning Congress has to approve funding every year.

"If there's not a budget, or if there's a government shutdown—and we have both right now—those folks are not going to get paid," Feigenbaum tells Reason, saying that spinning off these programs from direct federal control would eliminate a lot of the pain a shutdown imposes on both workers and travelers.

What's the solution? It just might be privatization:

There are already a number of airports in the country that have contracted out their passenger screenings to private companies through the TSA's Screening Partnership Program (SPP), helping to immunize them from the effects of the shutdown.

This includes San Francisco International Airport (the busiest airport to participate in the SPP program), where some 1,200 privately employed security screeners have continued to be paid despite all the budget drama in Washington.

According to Feigenbaum, more airports could easily jump on the bandwagon, and contract out their security screening services, although federal regulations ensure that the most noxious parts of airport security, from groin pat-downs to requirements to remove your shoes are the same at SPP airports.

Efforts to reform the air traffic controllers have failed in the past and would be more complicated than privatizing the TSA.

However, Britschgi says that both might provide something to ponder next time you are standing in line at an airport for 45 minutes.





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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