Prior to the 9-11 terrorist attacks, American airports used private firms for their security and passenger/baggage screening process. Following the failures of airport security to thwart the terrorists' access to flights on 9-11, the knee-jerk reaction by politicians was to federalize airport security and have officers work directly for the US government rather than contracted by individual airport managers.
In the wake of dozens of integrity tests at airports that revealed federal screeners performed the same or worse than contract security companies, the Transportation Security Agency decided to allow airport managers to apply for permission to use private security rather than federal screeners.
In November 2004, as required by law, the Transportation Security Administration began allowing all commercial airports to apply to use private screeners in lieu of federal screeners as part of its Screening Partnership Program (SPP).
The Government Accounting Offices' prior research revealed that airports and potential private screening contractors had concerns about the SPP, including whether they would be liable in the event of a terrorist attack and how roles and responsibilities would be divided among TSA airport staff and private screening contractors.
DHS and Congress have begun to address whether liability protection may be offered to current and prospective private screening contractors and airports using private screeners. DHS has already provided some liability protection to three of the four current private screening contractors.
However, DHS officials stated that they cannot provide additional coverage, which would render contractors virtually immune from all pertinent claims, because TSA has not finalized performance standards that would allow DHS to determine if contractors will perform as intended--a criterion that must be satisfied before providing such additional protection.
Recently enacted legislation shields airports from virtually all liability resulting from the negligence or wrongdoing committed by a private screening company or its employees. TSA has also taken action to improve the screener hiring process by granting contractors and TSA airport officials more input and flexibility in the hiring process.
Additionally, TSA has defined the roles and responsibilities for SPP stakeholders--TSA airport staff and private screening contractors, among others--in its August 2005 SPP transition plan.
However, the details in this plan have not been shared with private screening contractors, and all four contractors GAO investigators interviewed were unclear about TSA staff roles and responsibilities at the airports they served. TSA has stated that the SPP will operate at a cost that is competitive with equivalent federal operations and will achieve cost-savings where possible.
Over the last 3 years, TSA has awarded cost-reimbursement contracts with an award fee component for screening services at four of the five airports currently using private screeners. The award fee is based, in part, on contractor cost-savings.
However, opportunities for TSA cost-savings may be limited because under the cost-reimbursement contracts TSA bears most of the cost risk--the risk of paying more than it expected. TSA plans to shift more cost risk to contractors by competitively awarding fixed-price-award fee contracts for screening services at the four smallest airports that will participate in the SPP.
TSA also plans to competitively award fixed-price contracts for screening services at larger airports, but stated that they cannot do so for up to 2 years -- when officials believe that screening costs at larger airports will be better known. TSA has developed performance goals and has begun drafting related measures and targets to assess the performance of private screening contractors under the SPP in the areas of security, customer service, costs, workforce management, and innovation.
For example, one of the measures would require contractors to ensure that new hires receive required training. TSA's related target for this measure is that 100 percent of new hires will complete required training. These same measures and targets will also be used by DHS to assess whether to award full liability coverage under the SAFETY Act. TSA officials stated that DHS must approve the draft performance measures and targets before they can be finalized. As of January 2006, DHS had not yet completed its review.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.