ORLANDO, Fla. – The Greater Orlando Airport Authority voted Wednesday after an hourslong meeting at Orlando International Airport regarding whether to begin the process of moving toward using a private security screening company instead of the Transportation Security Administration.
After many TSA employees and members of the public passionately joined in on the discussion, the two-hour meeting concluded with a 6-1 vote, with board members ultimately approving the decision to begin the process of looking into replacing the TSA agents with private screeners, if problems with members of upper-level TSA management cannot be resolved within the next two months.
Initially, a memorandum was sent to the board detailing how a study showed customer satisfaction was dropping and wait times through screening were going to increase.
Officials from GOAA said they hope privatizing security will provide travelers with better customer service and reduce wait times through security checkpoints.
TSA officials argue that travelers would see very little difference because the screening methods would remain the same and contracted employees must pass the same background checks as TSA employees.
But about halfway through the meeting, both the CEO of the airport and the chairman of the board explained how a change was needed with the upper-level management of the local division of TSA, instead of just TSA agents at the OIA.
“It’s not the screeners,” chairman Frank Kruppenbacher said. “I recognize on any given day there’s a screener somebody’s not happy with, but that’s management dealing with those issues.”
Kruppenbacher said that he sees a major lack of communication between the senior management of the TSA locally and his staff.
“I’m taking the gloves off for this. There’s a leadership problem with TSA locally. That’s it, summed up," he said.
Kruppenbacher’s statement prompted applause from TSA agents and other union members.
"The leadership at TSA in Orlando is not at a level capable of managing TSA at this airport," he said.
Two top TSA directors were seen leaving earlier in the meeting, after their own presentation was completed and before Kruppenbacher’s comments were made.
Many of the dozens of TSA employees who packed the room to make their points before the vote took place shared how being laid off if the transition takes place could hurt them financially.
One woman said that she recently was able to purchase a home, where she lives with her daughter and her three grandchildren, all of whom she supports financially since her daughter’s husband was killed. The woman’s daughter and grandchildren were hospitalized after being involved in a crash during their move to Orlando, and the woman says she fears she wouldn’t be able to keep her home running for them if she loses her job as a TSA agent at the airport.
The board is scheduled to meet again in April, when it plans to decide whether or not the issues with the TSA management have been resolved, or if it will move forward with the process.
Several other TSA agents said they were confused by the board’s decision and that they aren’t happy to be caught in what they said appears to be a fight between the airport’s management and TSA’s upper management.
"The bottom line is: We're the ones stuck in the middle so there's a lot of uncertainty and we're not going to know until that 60-day period is up where we stand," TSA agent Jerry McKinnon said.
If the board determines that the issues have been resolved, the board would again need to vote against moving forward with the process to begin privatization, since it voted during Wednesday’s meeting to move forward with it, pending the management issues. If the board finds that the issues are not being resolved, it will begin taking the next steps toward staffing the airport with private screeners.
“Today is a sad day for working people in the greater Orlando area, and for the millions of passengers who fly through Orlando International Airport every year,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. “While we had hoped the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority would work with members of Congress at improving management at TSA, and would listen to the working people most affected by this vote, the board instead voted to begin the dangerous proposition of outsourcing security in Orlando.”
Since TSA oversees all airport security -- both private and federal -- the GOAA will need to submit an application to the agency to request hiring a private security firm to handle security at Orlando International Airport.
TSA will have 120 days to either accept or reject that application. If approved, OIA would be the largest airport to switch from using TSA to using private security. It would also mean that 1,100 TSA agents would lose their jobs or be transferred to a different airport or federal facility.
The next step in the process would be choosing a private security firm. GOAA members would create a committee to oversee the selection of a firm. The committee would then suggest a firm to TSA, which would then have 12 months to grant a private security contract.
It would then take between four and six months to fully make the transition from TSA to private security, meaning the entire process would take at least 18 months.
To see the online application for the Screening Partnership Program, as well as a full list of frequently asked questions regarding SPP airports, click here.