TSA: Travelers shouldn't see difference if Orlando votes to privatize security

Orlando International would be largest airport to make switch

ORLANDO, Fla. – Ahead of the decision whether to switch Orlando International Airport security from Transportation Security Administration management to a private company, TSA officials Wednesday laid out how the possible transition could work at one of the nation's busiest airports.

If Greater Orlando Aviation Authorities, or GOAA, the organization that manages OIA votes to make the switch on Feb. 21, the process of selecting a contractor, training and switching from TSA agents to contracted employees will take more than a year, TSA division director Carolyn Dorgham said.

Last year at OIA, TSA agents screened more than 21.4 million passengers and 15.5 million bags. Federal Security director Jerry Henderson said 36 percent of OIA travelers have TSA pre-check, which helps keep the airport process more passengers with fewer screening lanes.

If the GOAA board votes to privatize its security agents, Dorgham said, the only difference passengers will see is in the uniforms they will see going through security, the screening methods will remain the same and be overseen by the airport's federal security director.

Since the option became available to move toward a private security option, 22 airports, out of 450, have made the decision to switch. Orlando International would be the largest to do so, Dorgham said.   

Every commercial airport in the U.S. has been able to apply for the "screening-partnership program." Airport officials can apply on the TSA website and the federal security director reviews the application. 

The biggest benefit to using a private contractor is cost. TSA requires the companies to make bids that would be less than the cost of TSA security, therefore airports save money on overall human resource costs.

There are currently 15 companies that offer airport security, they are selected based on training standards, security measures, background checks and other factors, Dorgham said. Contracted employees must pass the same background checks as TSA employees and use the same security methods -pat downs and screening technology.

The transition could take about 18 months.

"Every airport is different, and once you’ve seen one airport, you’ve really only seen one airport," Dorgham said of the process.

Federal security and staff would continue to operate at the airport with the contractors during the transition and then after to make sure they keep in sync with the federal requirements, according to TSA.

The biggest hit would come to uniformed TSA officers. Dorgham said they could accept positions with the selected private contractor, move to another TSA assignment and some may retire.

GOAA will vote on Feb. 21 whether to make the move to privatize or not.