February 16, 2011
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- When you fly out of Springfield-Branson National Airport, Transportation Security Administration screeners help you through security. The airport’s staff would like to change that.
Last month, TSA turned down the airport’s application to have private security screeners who would be approved by TSA. Now the debate over the screeners is an issue in Congress.
The people checking your ID do have a lot of power. They can determine whether you board your flight, if you make it to the gate on time and what kind of day you're having, because one bad experience can linger.
"I'm not talking about those instances when it's ‘he said, she said,’ or someone was rude. I'm talking about operational issues that directly affect the customers,” said Kent Boyd, the marketing director for the Springfield-Branson National Airport.
Airport administrators say they have serious reports of several failures in service by TSA agents over many years. Another instance then was the last straw.
"In late October of last year, a woman in a wheelchair was left in a checkpoint for 20 minutes for extra screening and apparently TSA forgot about her, and, when they remembered she was there, her flight had already left,” said Boyd.
There are plenty of good agents, but the airport’s staff say the bad ones propelled them to look at other options approved by TSA, like going private.
“Our whole motivation for asking a private company to do the screening is customer service, pure and simple,” said Boyd.
So airport leaders sent TSA a letter, as more than a dozen other airports have before, asking to go private. TSA said no.
In a statement, the TSA administrator said, “I directed a full review of TSA policies with the goal of helping the agency evolve into a more agile, high-performing organization and . . . as part of that review, I examined the contractor screening program and decided not to expand the program . . . as I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time."
"That was not a reasonable decision,” said U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri. “It was not one the TSA was empowered to make and I think the principle of this alternative will be part of the final bill."
On Tuesday night, Blunt added an amendment to a federal aviation bill on the Senate floor. The amendment says private security screeners should not be limited to only a few airports. It gives this federal argument heat on The Hill that could work in Springfield's favor.
Airport staff feel confident that aviation bill will give them an answer in the next few months. Either way, the airport plans to reapply in the hope that TSA elaborates on its reason for denying its request, and those of other airports.