Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., says he'll launch an investigation into the TSA's abrupt decision to deny further applications by airports to replace TSA screeners with those of private contractors. In a statement issued late Friday, TSA Administrator John Pistole said he turned down an application by Branson-Springfield Airport in Missouri to go to private screeners under the Screening Partnership Program. "I examined the contractor screening program and decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports as I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time," Pistole said. The 16 airports with private screeners will be able to keep them. There are about 450 airports with passenger security screening in the U.S. The decision is a reversal of Pistole's earlier position, in which he said he was "neutral" on whether to allow contract screeners. Mica is a major proponent of the private option.
In December, Mica sent letters to all airports suggesting they look into the private option and he was apparently irked by Pistole's most recent decision. "It's unimaginable that TSA would suspend the most successfully performing passenger screening program we've had over the last decade," Mica told CNN. He said private contractors have been responsible for most of the security innovations that have been introduced at airports since 9/11. Meanwhile, the folks in Branson said they were just trying to improve the passenger experience. It was thought the airport might be able to exert a little more control over a contractor and that issues could be resolved more efficiently. "We want to have the best customer service we can with the folks," Gary Cyr, director of aviation, told OzarksFirst.com. "If we can do something to tweak that experience, we wish to do that."