Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 20, 2010

GOP FLOATS TSA PRIVATIZATION.... In recent months, we've heard Republicans raise the specter of privatizing a wide variety of services. Social Security, Medicare, Veterans Administration hospitals, and even the Centers for Disease Control all became targets.

But as travelers grow more frustrated with heightened airport security, it appears Republicans are opening a new front on the privatization crusade.

A Republican lawmaker, who is faulting big government spending, is suggesting that airports dump the Transportation Security Administration altogether, and opt instead to privatize security.

And some airports, fed up with poor service in a climate where travelers are outraged about the prospect of full-body scanners, are listening.

The consideration comes after Florida Republican Rep. John Mica -- a longtime critic of the TSA -- wrote letters to the country's 100 busiest airports earlier this month asking them to switch to private security.

Mica is poised to become chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, so he'll be in a position to advance this issue.

There are a variety of angles to consider here. Note, for example, that private companies that stand to benefit from privatization also happen to be generous campaign contributors to Mica's re-election campaign.

Even more importantly, several domestic airports already use private screeners, but it's still the TSA that establishes mandatory security standards. If Mica or other Republicans want to have a conversation about whether those security measures are appropriate, that's fine. But whether those doing the screening are public employees or private contractors doesn't change the standards themselves. Selling this as some sort of cure-all for frustrated travelers is silly.

As Josh Marshall joked yesterday, "Watching cable TV this morning it seems like the new idea is that this would all be better if private sector workers rather than government employees were inspecting Americans' crotches, boobs, etc."

But via email, reader V.S. noted another angle that's worth paying attention to: legal restrictions. Existing standards, as written by federal officials, have to take constitutional issues into consideration. If Mica scrapped the TSA and let airports hire Blackwater-style private security to screen passengers, it's easy to imagine legal safeguards -- against racial profiling, for example -- suddenly being cast aside.

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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don't taze my junk, bro.

Posted by: pacato on November 20, 2010 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

Expect the "don't touch my junk" kid to become the new Joe the Plumber.

Posted by: Danp on November 20, 2010 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Does anyone seriously think that private contractors would be as rigorous in investigating the backgrounds of potential hires? I would give it less than a year before the first case of a sex offender groping children emerges.

Posted by: PeteCO on November 20, 2010 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Not only the TSA should be privatized, but border security as well. Letters of marque could be issued and the whole operation could be self-financing. Because it wouldn't be a government operation, the restrictions of the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments wouldn't apply.

Posted by: Al on November 20, 2010 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Everything must be done to protect Americans from the greatest existential threat facing them: unionized Federal employees.

I can't wait until airports are guarded by these guys:

Posted by: Steve Paradis on November 20, 2010 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

The TSA is pretty much useless anyway. It wouldn't hurt security if they were privatized. And if airports had to hire them on their own, they wouldn't. So we'd have less hassles and pretty much the same security, which is pretty much none at all.

Posted by: fostert on November 20, 2010 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Didn't the 9/11 commission report lax supervision of private security firms as a contributing factor in the 9/11 attack?

Posted by: ElegantFowl on November 20, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

How soon people forget. It was private security screeners who let the terrorists get on the planes on 9/11/01.

Posted by: Dennis on November 20, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Are we forgetting that a private contractor, Wackenhut, let the 9/11 terrorists onto the airplanes. The reaction to their incompetence was the creation of TSA. Wackenhut? They are "guarding" Amtrak stations and Social Security Offices. There are no losers when the conservative are determined to loot the public purse.

Posted by: Russell Aboard M/V Sunshine on November 20, 2010 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Mica is one of the many righties who believe that Israeli-style behavioral profiling needs to be implemented, and that U.S. attempts to do that have been mismanaged (link). I never trust Republicans, but in theory I see the value in a non-ethnicity-based profiling process that works.

But I agree that what we'll probably get instead is "Strip search that woman in the headscarf!"

Posted by: Steve M. on November 20, 2010 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

ElegantFowl, Dennis and Russell beat me to it.

It's worth mentioning also that the primary reason we have the TSA is that a REPUBLICAN President and a REPUBLICAN Congress decided that a uniform standard for airport screening was required after investigations into the effectiveness of screening by private companies showed wide variances in screening practices and substantial discrimination in the selection of passengers to undergo more thorough inspection. The TSA was a product of the failures of private enterprise in protecting the flying public as much as it was a development of the GWoT.

Whether we like it or not, the TSA did apply standards and at least some sense of uniformity to passenger and baggage screening. The experience of flying after the TSA took over was more more consistent and less uncomfortable than it was in the period immediately following September 11. Many passengers went in print and on camera expressing their relief - not only for a more effective process but also for a more respectful and consistent one than what they had been forced to endure in the last days of the private screening services.

I don't think any of us like - or especially trust - the TSA. But many of us remember the nightmare that private screening services presented in the period before the TSA was deployed, either in their lax approach to security before the attacks and their abysmal efforts at enhanced security immediately afterward. Returning to the earlier methods is not a solution many will embrace.

Posted by: boatboy_srq on November 20, 2010 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

GOP, giving monsters a fresh new outlook!

Posted by: Trollop on November 20, 2010 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Or is that "monsters a makeover"? Doesn't privatization always cost the taxpayer 50% more? Honestly, these people couldn't govern a 7/11!!!

Fuck you Marsha Blackbeard!

Posted by: Trollop on November 20, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Yes! Privatize all security. Private army, navy, airforce, marines, and coast guard. Privatize the pentagon and police and all of it. Paying more for less reliable service always makes sense!

Posted by: kenbout on November 20, 2010 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP approach to the TSA is right up there with destroying villages to free them from communism.

Posted by: max on November 20, 2010 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Abolish the TSA. Sign the petition: http://abolishthetsa.net/sign-the-petition/

Posted by: Boris on November 20, 2010 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK
"Watching cable TV this morning it seems like the new idea is that this would all be better if private sector workers rather than government employees were inspecting Americans' crotches, boobs, etc."

Look these things are uncomfortable for everyone but clearly republicans are more familiar and comfortable with paying people in the private sector for services like feeling up their junk and lifting their luggage.

Posted by: rt on November 20, 2010 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

@rt: WIN.

Posted by: boatboy_srq on November 20, 2010 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

When you start calling for the searching of Malia and Sasha Obama, or their equivalent, as a necessary evil to insure the security of "Americans" I will believe that you are serious about security. How many of you fathers or mothers out there would allow a stranger, of either gender, to probe the privates of your daughters(seems we are more concerned about sexual assault against girls)? I'm waiting to see the first law suit charging a TSA or private security agent with sexual assault against a minor. Come on folks, this is just collateral damage and we cannot afford to exempt anyone from invasive searches. /snark/

Posted by: st john on November 20, 2010 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure the privatised TSA would prove as superiour as the privatised prisons are. And, as an added bonus, shares of those private versions could be sold on Wall Street. Feel free to make your own jokes about "bonds" and "securities".

Posted by: exlibra on November 20, 2010 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Can't wait for the likes of Blackwater/Halliburton to take over US airport security. That would make us all soooo safe. This country really is sliding into 3rd world-dom. Wake me in a few years when the waves are lapping at Kansas and Palin, Beck and Limpy are blaming the flood on Dems.

Posted by: pea on November 20, 2010 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK
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