June 28--Despite a more than yearlong review, Orlando International Airport officials are several months away from deciding whether they want to hire private guards to replace the federal Transportation Security Administration officers running passenger checkpoints.
Bottom line: TSA's fate still remains uncertain, said Orlando International vice chairman Dean Asher, who leads a 10-member committee that has been studying TSA and its dealings with travelers since March 2013.
"We're just going to put it together and take it to the board," Asher said of the intentions of his volunteer group.
Originally, Asher's panel was supposed to come back with a recommendation last fall. But, Asher said, other priorities took over, including negotiations with the planned All Aboard Florida train company that wants to link Orlando International with South Florida.
"There's just been so much stuff going on," Asher said. "It's just everything is backed up."
Now, Asher said, his panel is waiting for a report from a consulting firm that is scrutinizing how Orlando International, including TSA, deals with the public.
The $400,000 study by McKinsey & Co. of Washington, D.C., started in January and should be complete soon. It is supposed to come up with ways to improve the experience travelers have at Orlando International.
As for TSA, Asher said, the agency has "been doing a better job [with the public]. Obviously, they've been under the microscope."
The TSA has made several changes to decrease the lines passengers face at the checkpoints since the review was started at Orlando International.
The result is travelers are moving through security more quickly than in years past, said Jerry Henderson, who runs TSA in Orlando. TSA typically screens 50,000 travelers and 38,000 checked bags daily at the airport.
During May, according to the TSA, the average wait times at Orlando International ranged from 5 minutes to less than 10. TSA did not provide average wait times for May last year, though officials last July said the average wait during peak times was 26 minutes.
Since 2013, TSA has:
Started using dogs to sniff out drugs and contraband in large groups at the airport, allowing them to skip many of the usual security requirements, such as taking off shoes, belts and jackets.
Approved more airlines to join the TSA Precheck program, which allows qualified passengers to go through a quicker line. Eleven carriers are now in Precheck.
Opened an office at Orlando International for passengers to apply for Precheck.
Henderson said TSA's efforts are not related to the airport review.
"We've been working on customer service since I got here. That was the focus from the beginning," said Henderson, who came to Orlando two years ago from the TSA operation in Arkansas.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, is a big proponent of privatizing security at airports, even though he was instrumental in drafting the legislation that created TSA. Last year, he told the Orlando International group that it should fire TSA because it is bloated and overly bureaucratic.
Contractors, he says, would be more efficient and customer-friendly.
"Hopefully," he said in an email to the Orlando Sentinel, "Orlando will join Sanford, Sarasota, Key West and more than a dozen other cities, including some as large as San Francisco, that have adopted private screening."
According to TSA, 18 airports have private security forces, including Key West. Orlando Sanford International Airport and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport are moving toward replacing TSA.
If an airport hires private contractors, they still are supervised by TSA and operate under federal rules.
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