Robert Poole believes that airport security across the country is "fundamentally flawed" and that he knows how to fix it.
Poole, a transportation adviser to the last four U.S. presidents and the author of a study released Thursday, said airports across the country should take back the job of screening baggage, passengers and carry-on items. And the Transportation Security Administration needs to serve only as policymaker.
The agency's dual roles of administrative oversight and security-services provider are too conflicting, he said.
Poole's report, titled "Airport Security: Time for a New Model," suggests that airports would not feel an added financial burden to handle screening, because the money that TSA spends on security could be shifted to them.
Poole said airports would have a better idea of how to spend the money than a central organization like TSA.
By investing in more-expensive, automated equipment, airports could cut staff. When added up, Poole estimates, TSA could save $720 million annually by cutting 14,394 screening jobs.
The remaining approximately 8,106 screeners could be further reduced by roughly 50 percent, Poole argues, if TSA went to more of a risk-based system. In other words, don't screen every bag, he said. Those who qualify as low-risk in a registered-traveler program would be randomly screened rather than always.
TSA has started such a program in Orlando, Fla., and hopes to roll it out this year at airports across the country, spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said. She said she could not comment on Poole's report because she had not seen it.
A year ago, the TSA began allowing airports to have private, TSA-approved security firms do the screening. Five airports were part of the pilot program when it started in late 2001. Since offering the option to all airports, only two small ones have made the switch.
Poole argues in his report that the option is a limited fix because TSA chooses the firm and manages staffing levels, so airports still don't have much of a say.
But at this point, that's a good thing, said Stephen Van Beek, executive vice president for policy at Airports Council International-North America, which represents airports throughout the continent.
Airports are concerned about liability. If they choose to handle security themselves or choose a security firm, they would be more likely to be found liable if a catastrophe occurs, Van Beek said.
Congress in October 2001 created the Transportation Security Administration for the purpose of watching over and administering airport screening.
"That law, as implemented by the TSA, has wasted large sums of taxpayers' money and passengers' time while doing little to increase aviation security," Poole's report says.
Before 9-11, the Federal Aviation Administration was in charge of airport security, and that responsibility was delegated to the largest airline in each concourse, according to the report.
Money should be allocated to airports on a monthly basis rather than annually, it says.
"That's why at some airports you see workers just standing around, and at other airports there's long lines," Poole said. "That's partly because they're working on year-ago data for what the workload is."
But McCauley said even though staffing decisions are made annually for each airport, TSA's regional directors have the authority to raise or lower staff levels more often if needed.
Poole is banking on Congress amending a pending bill that would shift the security responsibilities from TSA to airports. "That's the most likely vehicle for moving forward," he said.
Airports Council International doesn't agree that airports should have the total responsibility for screening, Van Beek said. Rather, airports should have the option of doing it themselves or leaving the job to the TSA, he said.
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