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Frequently Asked Questions - Program

Screening Partnership Program

What is SPP, and is it the same as Opt-Out?

The Screening Partnership Program, or SPP, manages the use of qualified private vendors to perform the screening of passengers and baggage at airports participating in the Program. The Program was designed to meet the requirement for the "opt-out" provision established in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001, commonly referred to as ATSA. Since November 19, 2004, airport authorities have been eligible under SPP to submit an application to TSA to use private contract screeners.

Which airports are currently participating in the program?

There are currently 18 airports participating in the Screening Partnership Program: San Francisco International Airport; Kansas City International Airport; Greater Rochester International Airport; Sioux Falls Regional Airport; Jackson Hole Airport; Tupelo Regional Airport; Key West International Airport; Charles M. Schultz-Sonoma County Airport; Roswell International Air Center; and nine airports in Montana: Bert Mooney Airport; Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport; Dawson Community Airport; Glacier Park International Airport; Havre City-County Airport; L. M. Clayton Airport; Sidney-Richland Municipal Airport; Wokal Field/Glasgow International Airport; and Yellowstone Airport.

Which airports may apply to SPP?

All commercial airports with Federal security screening are eligible to apply. Airport directors anticipating commercial airline service at a future date must first apply to TSA for a "Federalized" designation of their airport before applying to SPP.

Who sets security standards for airports that have transitioned to SPP?

TSA sets the security protocols and standards for all commercial airports nationwide, to include airports participating in SPP.

Can an airport authority / public airport apply to TSA to provide its own contract screening services?

ATSA provisions expressly authorize TSA to award a screening contract to a "qualified private screening company," defined as a company "owned and controlled by a citizen of the United States," to the extent that the Under Secretary (now the Assistant Secretary) determines that such companies exist. Because a public airport does not exist as a company "owned and controlled by a citizen of the United States," TSA interprets the relevant ATSA provisions as excluding a public airport from competing for and obtaining a screening contract with TSA. An airport would need to form a private entity to compete for a screening contract. State laws will set forth what is required to incorporate.

Will TSA headquarters support an airport authority's request to "re-Federalize" or "opt-in" if the airport becomes unhappy with the contract screeners?

Yes, to the extent permissible under the TSA Acquisition regulations. However, substantial procurement law issues could be involved and could influence the outcome and the manner in which the airport request could be accomplished.

If an airport joins SPP, will all Federal screeners lose their jobs?

Once an airport joins SPP, Federal screening positions are abolished. However, TSA supports provisions that assist Federal screeners potentially affected by the transition to SPP, including priority for employment with the private contractor as well as measures to facilitate movement to other TSA or other Federal employment. TSA believes that it is in everyone's best interest to retain the current screener work force for both security and cost-effectiveness.

Will an SPP airport have the same number of contract screener full time equivalents as Federal screener full time equivalents?

TSA uses a staffing model to determine an airport’s overall staffing needs based on airport layout, equipment type, number of passengers, etc. The TSA provides this information to the contractor as part of the requirement for screening services. The contractor uses this information to plan it’s staffing in order to meet the needs of the airport. Therefore, the actual number of contract screeners may differ from how the Federal government would staff the airport. However, based on the staffing needs, the actual number of full-time equivalents should be approximately the same whether private or Federal.

What will happen if an airport participates in the SPP and requires more screening resources due to passenger growth?

TSA will handle this situation like it would for any other contract that has requirements that evolve. If deemed necessary, a contract modification will be issued to address new requirements.

What are the differences between Federal screener and private screener benefits? How is TSA ensuring that private screeners are receiving pay and benefits comparable to that of the Federal screeners?

ATSA mandates private screening companies to provide compensation and other benefits to their screeners that are not less than the level of compensation and other benefits provided to comparable Federal Government personnel. In accordance with the contract for private screening services, TSA verifies the contractor’s certification that labor rates meet the ATSA minimum rates.

Private screening contractors have some flexibility in fashioning their compensation and benefits packages in terms of the precise type of health and other benefits that are being provided to provide the best mix of pay and benefit to their employees while ensuring they provide a sufficient package to recruit and retain quality workers that meet federal standards. Consequently, the compensation and benefits packages at the private airports are equivalent but not identical to those available to Federal screeners.

Do budget limitations differ between Federal screeners and contractor screeners?

All funding for SPP comes from the same budget line items as Federal screening operations.

If appropriations for the Federal budget are not made in a timely manner in a given year, will TSA still be able to fund the private screener contractor during that period of time?

Should this occur, TSA would fund in accordance with Congressional direction through passage of a Continuing Resolution. Continuing Resolutions generally allow agencies to fund contracts at the previous fiscal year's level but not add new requirements.

Do contracted screeners draw their authority from the Aviation Transportation and Security Act PL107-71 (ATSA), or do state and local governments have to codify ATSA to establish their authority to perform Administrative Searches? If so, what if there is a conflict with the State Constitution (e.g., random vehicle searches during heightened alert conditions)? Will the Screening Standard Operating Procedures be modified to accommodate these conflicts?

Even prior to the passage of ATSA and the Federalization of the screening work force, Federal courts upheld warrantless searches of carry-on luggage at airports. Courts characterize the routine administrative search conducted at a security checkpoint as a warrantless search, subject to the reasonableness requirements of the Fourth Amendment. Such a warrantless search, also known as an administrative search, is valid under the Fourth Amendment if it is "no more intrusive or intensive than necessary, in light of current technology, to detect weapons or explosives, " confined in good faith to that purpose," and passengers may avoid the search by electing not to fly. [See United States v. Davis, 482 F.2d 893, 908 (9th Cir. 1973)].

While the searches at the airport will be conducted by private screening companies, such searches will continue to be subject to the Fourth Amendment requirements of reasonableness because they are conducted at the instigation of the federal Government and under the authority of federal statutes and regulations governing air passenger screening.

What will be the role of the FSD at airports in the Screening Partnership Program?

Per ATSA, TSA is to provide Federal Government oversight at each airport at which screening services are provided. Oversight is ensured by TSA's Federal Security Directors (FSDs) who have overall responsibility for airport security. The FSDs will remain at SPP airports as Federal employees and will continue to be responsible for overseeing all screening operations at SPP airports and for ensuring that contract screening companies provide effective and efficient security operations. The mission, mandate and fundamental role of the FSD remains constant regardless of whether the screening work force is composed of Federal or private employees.

Would airport operators be liable in the Screening Partnership Program?

The Transportation Security Administration is of the opinion that airport operators who do not perform screening services should not face liability for screening services, whether they are provided by TSA employees or companies under contract to TSA. TSA bases this opinion in part on the fact that airport operators do not control Federal screening standards and have no authority over either TSA TSOs or TSA screening contractors. Ultimately, a court of competent jurisdiction would most likely decide the issue of liability depending on the facts of a specific case.

TSA also seeks to address the liability issue through clarification on the applicability of the Support of Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002, Subtitle G of Title VIII of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (§§ 861-865), codified at 6 U.S.C. §§ 441-444 (the "SAFETY Act"). The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Science and Technology (OST) makes determinations concerning the applicability of the SAFETY Act. Application of the SAFETY Act does not provide blanket indemnification but limits third-party tort suits in the event of a terrorist incident. Significantly, liability protection pursuant to the SAFETY Act for services "designated" as a qualified anti-terrorism technology will result in limited liability risks for the private screening company and its contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, vendors and customers as well as the contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, and vendors of the customer. TSA, OST, and the Office of General Counsel have been working closely on SAFETY Act determinations. The Department is still reviewing the applicability of the SAFETY Act.

Does the U.S. Government indemnify contractors against losses due to screening failures?

Liability limitations are controlled by the SAFETY Act. In order to obtain protection from liability for terrorist acts, contractors competing for the SPP must apply for liability coverage under the SAFETY Act through DHS. The Department has prepared a SAFETY Act application kit that can be found here.

Application forms also are available by mail:

Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane, Building 410
Washington, DC 20528

How do I keep current on new information concerning the SPP acquisitions process as well as other program updates?

All acquisition information is provided on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site, as well as on this Web site.

What does TSA think of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012?
TSA is committed to implementing the new law. TSA has modified the SPP application to comply with the additional requirements specified in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act. A revised application, compliant with the Act, was posted on on March 22, 2012.

Are private screening airports less safe?
No, private screening airports use the same technology and follow the same procedures as federal screening airports.  Data from covert testing has confirmed that the performance for federal and privatized screening is comparable. In November 2008, GAO released a report indicating the performance of SPP airports in screening operations is comparable when evaluated in relation to like-sized federally screened airports. In addition, Federal Security Directors at the airports remain responsible for the overall security operations including screening, regulatory functions, and collaboration with law enforcement. This level of oversight ensures that private screening operations meet the same high standards as federal screening provides.

Does privatized screening have better customer service than TSA screening?
TSA takes the professionalism of our workforce very seriously.  Federal and privatized screening have comparable performance, and there is no measurement indicating there is a difference in customer service.

Latest revision: 30 May 2014