After 9/11, there was something of a national call to federalize security screeners at American airports. Folks finally realized that maybe the people we depend on for our flying safety ought to get good quality training and decent pay.
So Congress and the Bush administration passed laws federalizing the airport security workforce. It was amazing to watch a bunch of pro-business, pro-privatization Republicans making the case that MORE government is the answer (although mostly through gritted teeth – they were only doing it to make it look like they were taking action to “fight terrorism,” but that’s another story).
Funny thing is, though, if you read through the details you’ll notice that all the work being done to create this new government workforce is being farmed out to the private sector.
In April 2002 the feds awarded contracts worth .9 million to three companies for each to “develop a master plan and schedule for the federalization of security for the nation’s 429 airports.” The money will go to Fluor Enterprises, Inc., Hensel Phelps Construction Company, and Lockheed Martin Corp.
Back in March, before the first new federalized airport security workers even started work, NCS Pearson, another private company, was awarded 3.4 million to provide “an automated, Web-based system for the recruitment and placement of personnel.” NCS Pearson will also “provide on-going human resources services for these personnel deployed throughout the country.”
Since these contracts were competitively bid, it means they went to the lowest bidder. This is exactly the same complaint that has been made about the way airlines contracted out security work when it was their responsibility.
They call this federalized? I call it privatized. It’s the same old “race to the bottom” approach to airport security.
There’s no question that prior to 9/11, airport screeners were badly underpaid and undertrained. However, not a single security screener has been found at fault in the September tragedy. It's worth noting that the people who did some of the bravest, best work to save lives after 9/11 were medics, firefighters and police. Mostly government employees who get paid living wages with good benefits, and they’re members of unions that look out for their best interests.
I’m left with two questions:
1) If federalizing airport security just means redistributing the work to a different set of private companies, will we really be any safer?
2) Is the Bush administration following the will of the American people if he’s privatizing by stealth what Congress federalized by law?
To learn more about privatization of these workers, or to apply for a job as an airport security screener, visit the new federal Transportation Security Administration at www.tsa.gov.