According to a new Washington Post report, although the historic government shutdown was attributed at least some responsibility for the long wait times a airport security checkpoints recently across the U.S, airports such as San Francisco International, which use contractors rather than TSA employees to man security checkpoints, did not experience any such issues.
When the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which operates and manages Orlando International Airport (MCO), threatened to to replace TSA screeners with a private contractor last year, airport officials said the change was a necessary response to unacceptable security wait times during busy travel periods. After eventually receiving a promise from TSA officials to increase staffing levels, the airport authority decided to keep TSA workers at their posts.
Now the Washington Post reports there maybe another good reason for airports to consider dumping federal workers in favor of private contractors. While airports like Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) made headlines for hours-long security lines throughout the recent government shutdown, during which federal workers did not receive paychecks, for airports such as San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which man security checkpoint with private contractors rather than TSA workers, the shutdown was business as usual.
“There has long been a debate over whether airport screening should be provided by the federal government or by private companies,” The Post’s Lori Aratani wrote in a report published on Sunday. “And the recent government shutdown — and the potential for a repeat if lawmakers can’t reach a deal with President Trump by Friday — has some wondering whether anxiety over staffing may prompt more airports to consider switching to private contractors.”
Of course if airports such as MCO, ATL or BWI (all of which had widely reported staffing issues during the most recent shutdown) decide to make an official application for permission to stop using TSA screeners, not much will noticeably change. Under federal law, all commercial airports in the U.S. are regulated by the TSA. Federal regulators say that any airports said to have “opted out” of the TSA program are actually opting into a Screening Partnership Program (SPP) which permits select airports to hire and fire approved private firms which are authorized to supply screeners who will then work under the direct supervision of the TSA.
In the unlikely event of another politically motivated federal government shutdown, however, those independent contractors will still be receiving paychecks, unlike their federal employee counterparts at airport security operations operated by the TSA. Or as SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel put it, “Operations were normal.”