The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was established in the aftermath of 9/11. Among other jobs in securing highways, pipelines, ports, mass transit systems, etc., it’s also responsible for screening passengers and baggage at more than 400 U.S. airports.
The vast majority of TSA Officers are employed by the federal government. However since 2004, TSA began letting airports apply to use private contractors, instead of TSA employees, for screening. At this time, 22 public airports contract with private screening companies to do the job TSA officers usually do. They all run screening operations under federal oversight and must comply with all TSA security screening procedures.
Such airports currently include:
- Atlantic City International Airport
- Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport
- Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport
- Dawson Community Airport
- Great Falls International Airport
- Glacier Park International Airport
- Greater Rochester International Airport
- Havre City-County Airport
- Jackson Hole Airport
- Kansas City International Airport
- L. M. Clayton Airport
- Orlando Sanford International Airport
- Portsmouth International Airport
- Punta Gorda Airport
- Roswell International Air Center
- San Francisco International Airport
- Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport
- Sidney-Richland Municipal Airport
- Sioux Falls Regional Airport
- Tupelo Regional Airport
- Wokal Field/Glasgow International Airport
- Yellowstone Airport
There can be some advantages to going through an airport that uses a privately run screening company:
- Instead of following federal staffing guidelines, private companies have more flexibility and can set their own staffing targets and hire as many screeners as they want/need. That can potentially mean shorter lines.
- These private screening companies are also allowed to hire contractors to do nonessential work (like removing/replenishing bins on a regular basis, reminding passengers of what they need to do at the checkpoint, etc.)
- Because they’re not federal employees, private screening companies aren’t subject to government shutdowns.
Contracting with a private security company instead of using TSA officers may also be advantageous for the airport:
- It may be cheaper for an airport to go with a privately run security company, since they probably won’t be dealing with union workers.
- More from a work POV, if an employee needs to be fired, it’s easier for a contracted private company to fire them than to go through the red tape of getting rid of some government workers.
Airports are allowed to switch from federally employed TSA officers to private security companies as they wish, as long as said security company is approved by the TSA (not surprisingly, it’s a process) and follows all standard operating procedures and other pertinent regulations. The work would also have to be coordinated through the Federal Security Director to ensure proper supervision.
An airport can also request to switch from a contracted private operator to TSA running their security. And that’s exactly what’s happening at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) right now.
BZN is the 7th busiest airport in the 7-state Northwest Region of the country (the region including Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington) and the 92nd busiest airport in the nation in terms of passengers (2,264,424 passengers traveled through BZN in 2022). It’s currently serviced by Alaska, Allegiant, American, Avelo, Delta, jetBlue, Southwest, Sun Country and United. The airport has been using a contracted security company since September of 2014. However effective October 8th, they’ll be going back to TSA officers providing the airport’s security.
The change is happening as per the airport’s request, after a unanimous vote by the Gallatin Airport Authority Board in mid-July. No reason for the request has been given publicly. However, the employees who were working for the private security company have all been contacted by the TSA. 30 employees have committed to federal employment, and therefore the switch will cause no disruptions to the screening process. The only change for them will be the employer and benefits (those include comprehensive health care plans, a generous 401k retirement plan as well as accrual of annual and sick leave. TSA doesn’t prorate benefits and offers full-time benefits for part-time employees).
TSA officers at BZN will also receive locality pay, retention incentives, overtime pay, other forms of premium pay and be eligible for a variety of cash awards. Once an employee becomes a federal TSA officer, they are eligible to transfer internally to most airports within the United States after a year of employment.
“Once TSA received the request to federalize security screening operations at BZN, we immediately began working with airport leadership and the contractor currently providing these services to ensure a smooth transition. Our goal is to deliver seamless security operations for residents and visitors departing BZN while ensuring that the employees who will transition to federal employment will be well taken care of,” said TSA Federal Security Director for Montana Kc Wurtsbaugh. “We look forward to maintaining our strong commitment to the community during this transition and providing effective and efficient security operations in the Gallatin Valley.”
For the most part, passengers don’t notice any difference between federally employed TSA officers and those employed by a private screening company. That’s even less so when it will be the same people doing the same job, just in a different colored uniform (those employed by private companies wear the official uniform of said company, not TSA uniforms).
From TSA’s Lorie Dankers, “The message for the community is that it will be a seamless transition for you,” says Dankers. “There will be no interruption of security screening services and you’re going to see some of those same faces that you’re used to seeing here in the checkpoint, working as federal employees, doing these same duties.
“We know that really, communities benefit when we hire local TSA officers to work here. That’s your friends and your families. You see those familiar faces as we expand our staff here,” Dankers continued. “One thing we promised all of the contract employees who are transitioning to federal employment is they will not be paid less than they were paid as a contractor.”
Feature Image: TSA/FB
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