Four years after Congress put the federal government in charge of aviation security, it is about to change course and encourage private security companies to run airport checkpoints.
Lawmakers agreed Thursday to give airports legal protection if they get rid of federal screeners and replace them with private companies. The agreement was reached by a bipartisan committee of House and Senate negotiators after Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., put the lawsuit protection in the final version of the Homeland Security Department's 2006 spending bill.
Twenty to 30 airports have balked at switching to private screeners because they feared being named in lawsuits that might arise from a terror incident, airport lobbyist Stephen Van Beek said.
Lawsuit protection "is a big move," Van Beek said.
Private companies can deploy screeners more efficiently than the federal Transportation Security Administration, Van Beek said, and hire them more quickly to avoid staffing shortages that close checkpoint lanes.
But aviation security consultant Billie Vincent objected saying that private companies would weaken security by cutting costs to increase profits.
Some Democrats said the law that put the federal government in charge of aviation security after the 9/11 attacks was intended to discourage airports from using private screeners.
The push for legal protection began over the summer when San Francisco International Airport said it would stop using a private security company because of lawsuit concerns, USA Today reports.