Congressman Calls to Ditch TSA Agents

Amongst a tense climate of Internet campaigns shunning screening procedures and veteran pilots suing over their treatment by government screeners, some airports are considering ditching TSA agents altogether.

Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican, is leading the push for airports to select screeners from the private sector instead of employing TSA agents. Federal law allows airports to choose their own security instead of employing TSA agents, although the same procedures must be followed.

Mica has garnered a lot of respect-and campaign money-for suggesting travelers would feel more comfortable if they did not have to deal with TSA employees. This month, he penned letters to the nation's 100 busiest airports asking that they consider using private security guards instead.

"I think we could use half the personnel and streamline the system," Mica said Wednesday according to the Associated Press. He also called the TSA a "bloated bureaucracy."

Mica is the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and expects to lead the committee when the new Congress convenes in January.

Over the past 13 years, political action committees and executives connected to companies that could gain business if airports followed suit with Mica's suggestions have donated almost $81,000 to his campaign.

Private contactors are already employed in place of TSA agents at 16 U.S. airports. These security guards must use the same TSA-mandated procedures, including hand pat downs if necessary. In other words, replacing TSA agents does not mean passengers will not have to pass through body scanners or take off their shoes for security checks.

The Orlando Sanford International Airport, the second-largest airport in the Orlando area, plans to begin switching to screeners from the private sectors in January so long as a few remaining concerns can be met. Experiences from the airport-which is within Mica's district-are what inspired Mica to write his letter.

According to the Associated Press, CEO Larry Dale "said members of the board that runs Sanford were impressed after watching private screeners at airports in Rochester, New York, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming." Mica added that TSA agents could do better at customer service.

"Some of [the TSA agents] are a little test," said Dale. "And we work hard to get passengers and airlines. And to have it undone by a personality problem?"

San Francisco International Airport is the largest airport to use private screeners, which the airport has done since the formation of the TSA. Airport spokesman Mike McCarron told the Associated Press the city's high cost of living made it hard to hire federal employees.

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