House Homeland Security Committee Seeks to Model TSA After FAA

Efforts are under way to transform the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) into a more business-like organization.

The staff of the House Homeland Security Committee is drafting legislation to reconfigure TSA's organizational structure to make it similar to that of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said Adam Tsao, a committee staff member, in a legislative outlook forum at last week's fall meeting of the Regional Airline Association (RAA).

Just as the FAA's operational side - the air traffic controllers - now have an arms-length relationship to the policy development and regulatory side of the agency, Tsao said the operational side of TSA - the screeners - would be separated from that agency's regulators and security standard writers. A chief operating officer would be hired to operate the screening unit in a business- like fashion.

"The TSA does a lot of things that you would not consider business-like. If this were to happen, they would use industrial engineering to make the tables [at the checkpoints] longer and find the right ratios between the metal detectors and the X-ray machines. And, maybe we can figure out how to weed out the grandmothers and other low-risk passengers," he said.

The committee would like to create an environment in which the private sector would want to invest in new screening equipment that the government cannot afford, Tsao said. "The private sector would need to capture some of the savings. In that environment, you can start guiding the TSA along a supply-chain concept so they realize they are part of the transportation industry. They need to figure out how they can become a better business."

Part of the process may involve replacing government screeners with private screeners, Tsao said, noting that only six airports are now participating in a TSA program to replace government employees with private screeners.

One way to finance new screening equipment for TSA - and new air traffic control equipment for the FAA - would be to sell bonds, just as state and local governments finance major capital improvements. However, it would be "very difficult" for the federal government to get bonding authority, said Sam Whitehorn, deputy chief of staff for the Senate transportation subcommittee. "We tried to get that in a highway bill several years ago - and they have fairly significant clout - and we could not get it," Whitehorn to the RAA forum.

It would be difficult to alter the funding for FAA - and TSA- because a shift to bonding or a fee structure would move oversight to another set of congressional committees. "Committees don't give up jurisdiction just because someone has a great idea. Things don't happen that way on the Hill," he said.

The RAA and others in the industry want some general taxpayer dollars used to fully fund the FAA since the passenger ticket tax no longer generates enough money.

As the FAA reauthorization is again up for reconsideration in 2007, the "big fight will be how will you pay for the FAA," said Jarrod Thompson, a Republican staff member of the same Senate subcommittee. The debate process over reauthorization probably will start two years early, he noted, especially since it took nine extra months to pass the 2003 reauthorization.

>>Contacts: Adam Tsao, House, (202) 226-8417; Sam Whitehorn, Senate, (202) 224-0411; Jarrod Thompson, Senate, (202) 224-1251.

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