First airport will switch to private screeners in fall
WASHINGTON – A South Dakota airport intends to replace its federal screeners with private workers, the first change allowed since the government took over aviation security after the Sept. 11 attacks.Mike Marnach, director of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport, said it is time to try something other than the government model.”We like it, it’s OK, but I’m not sure it’s the most efficient for the taxpayer,” Marnach said. The airport plans the switch in the fall.Five airports that already use private screeners under a pilot program will continue to do so, the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday in announcing it has approved the switch for Sioux Falls.The airport in Elko, Nev., has applied to opt out of the federal system.Marnach pointed out that the private screeners working on Sept. 11, 2001, did what they were supposed to.”Boxcutters and 3-1/2 inch knives weren’t prohibited and the terrorists knew that,” he said. “My board thinks private companies didn’t get a fair shake.”Rep. Peter DeFazio, a member of the House Homeland Security subcommittee that planned a hearing on the subject Thursday, opposes private screeners.”I won’t be flying out of Sioux Falls,” said DeFazio, D-Ore. “Before 9-11, screeners had trouble in tests detecting fully assembled large caliber handguns and today that’s not a problem.”Like all airports, Sioux Falls will not be able to choose which company provides the screening service. The TSA will make that selection from a list of 34 approved companies.The agency, created after the Sept. 11 attacks, was ordered by Congress to replace private screeners hired by airlines with a better-paid and -trained federal work force.More than 50,000 screeners were hired in less than a year, though that number has been trimmed to about 45,000.Congress also ordered five commercial airports to use privately employed screeners who are hired, trained, paid and tested to TSA standards, to serve as a comparison to the federal employees. Those airports are in San Francisco, Rochester, N.Y., Tupelo, Miss., Jackson, Wyo., and Kansas City, Mo.Marnach said all the TSA screeners at Sioux Falls Airport will have a guaranteed job with the private screening company for at least 90 days. Then, he said, their employment will depend on how well they perform.Airport officials say they are concerned that they would be sued if private screeners failed to prevent a terrorist attack. A law passed in 2002 gave limited legal protection to some companies involved in anti-terrorism businesses. Many airports are not sure that is enough.Marnach said his board of directors does not think that will happen.”I suppose some attorney would drag us in on some litigation, but we’re not concerned,” he said.