GOP floats TSA privatization

GOP FLOATS TSA PRIVATIZATION…. In recent months, we’ve heard Republicans raise the specter of privatizing a wide variety of services. Social Security, Medicare, Veterans Administration hospitals, and even the Centers for Disease Control all became targets.

But as travelers grow more frustrated with heightened airport security, it appears Republicans are opening a new front on the privatization crusade.

A Republican lawmaker, who is faulting big government spending, is suggesting that airports dump the Transportation Security Administration altogether, and opt instead to privatize security.

And some airports, fed up with poor service in a climate where travelers are outraged about the prospect of full-body scanners, are listening.

The consideration comes after Florida Republican Rep. John Mica — a longtime critic of the TSA — wrote letters to the country’s 100 busiest airports earlier this month asking them to switch to private security.

Mica is poised to become chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, so he’ll be in a position to advance this issue.

There are a variety of angles to consider here. Note, for example, that private companies that stand to benefit from privatization also happen to be generous campaign contributors to Mica’s re-election campaign.

Even more importantly, several domestic airports already use private screeners, but it’s still the TSA that establishes mandatory security standards. If Mica or other Republicans want to have a conversation about whether those security measures are appropriate, that’s fine. But whether those doing the screening are public employees or private contractors doesn’t change the standards themselves. Selling this as some sort of cure-all for frustrated travelers is silly.

As Josh Marshall joked yesterday, “Watching cable TV this morning it seems like the new idea is that this would all be better if private sector workers rather than government employees were inspecting Americans’ crotches, boobs, etc.”

But via email, reader V.S. noted another angle that’s worth paying attention to: legal restrictions. Existing standards, as written by federal officials, have to take constitutional issues into consideration. If Mica scrapped the TSA and let airports hire Blackwater-style private security to screen passengers, it’s easy to imagine legal safeguards — against racial profiling, for example — suddenly being cast aside.