WASHINGTON - The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today announced that the agency is ready to accept applications from commercial airports that wish to participate in the Screening Partnership Program (SPP). This option will allow participants to choose security screeners employed by qualified private companies while maintaining TSA standards and government oversight.
Under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), which created TSA in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, November 19, 2004 is the first day airports may apply to join the program.
TSA assumed responsibility for aviation security in February 2002 and hired a federal work force to screen all passengers and baggage by the end of that year except at five airports that were allowed to have contract screeners under a pilot program. ATSA allows airport operators to apply to have screening performed by a contractor with federal oversight after the pilot program expires on November 18, 2004.
“This is an important local decision and we’re ready to work with any airport that prefers to have contractor screeners,” said Rear Adm. David M. Stone, USN (Ret.), Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for TSA. “An important objective is maintaining the same high level of security at any airport that seeks to ‘opt-out’ of federal screening, and TSA is prepared to make that guarantee.”
Information on SPP, including the application, program guidance and frequently asked questions, can be obtained on TSA’s Web site, www.tsa.gov under Spotlight.
No deadline has been set for filing applications in order to provide airports maximum flexibility.
The final decision on whether an airport is approved for the program rests with TSA. Airports that enter the program are not expected to begin making the transition to contract screeners before May 2005.
Under the SPP, federal security directors (FSDs) and their staffs will continue to be responsible for security at the airport. An FSD’s mission is to ensure security regardless of whether screening is done by contract or federal screeners.
TSA is currently developing a list of qualified screening companies that may offer proposals to provide screening at individual airports. To qualify, companies must show financial capability and meet ATSA and other federal requirements that include providing screening services and protection equal to or greater than the federal government delivers and being owned and controlled by a U.S. citizen. TSA will ensure that screening companies meet federal standards.
When an airport applies to the program, TSA will solicit proposals from qualified companies. Those proposals will be evaluated by TSA using these criteria: business management, technical merit, past performance and cost.
“We will start with a set of requirements and criteria that must be met,” said Admiral Stone. “Then, SPP operational plans will be tailored to meet specific needs of individual airports since each one is unique.”
At the request of the original five pilot airports, their screening contractors will continue to do screening for at least another year until those contracts can be competitively bid under the new Screening Partnership procedures. An evaluation earlier this year concluded there was little difference in the performance or cost of the private and federal screening forces. Private companies are screening at airports in San Francisco, Kansas City, Mo., Rochester, N.Y., Tupelo, Miss., and Jackson, Wyo.
Admiral Stone noted that some airport officials have expressed concern about federal funding being adequate should an airport participating in the program experience unexpected growth. He said contracts under the SPP would be handled like any other TSA contract, with modifications made when warranted by changing conditions.
He also noted that officials of some companies interested in providing screening services have had concerns about their liability in case of a terrorist incident. Limited liability protection for terrorist acts can be provided to companies for specific products or services under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the Support of Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002, which is called the SAFETY Act. The SAFETY Act provides a system of risk and litigation management and essentially limits tort liability in the event of acts of terrorism when utilizing a qualified service or product that has been designated or certified by DHS. Details of the program can be found at safetyact.gov.
The Aviation and Transportation Security Act also requires contract screening companies to employ screeners who meet all the requirements that federal screeners meet and that the companies provide compensation and benefits not less than what the government provides. TSA will also require any selected contract company to give hiring preference to federal screeners who are employed at an airport that transitions to a private screening force.