Council member wants TSA screeners replaced with private contractor at Indianapolis airport

Irked over increasingly intrusive searches, he seeks to urge airport to use private contractor instead

12:50 AM, Dec 13, 2010 | Written by Jon Murray

A city-county councilman incensed over airport pat-downs and full-body scanners that can see beneath travelers’ clothing wants local officials to deliver a message to the TSA: Take a hike.
Ed Coleman said his outrage over the invasiveness of recently changed security procedures led to his proposal for a council resolution. If approved, the measure would urge — but not require — Indianapolis International Airport to replace Transportation Security Administration screeners with a private contractor.

Federal law allows the option, and other airports are considering similar moves. But Indianapolis Airport Authority officials, who have the ultimate say over such a change, defended the TSA’s presence last week.
“I don’t believe Indianapolis International Airport could be better served by a private security provider,” said a statement from John D. Clark III, the Airport Authority’s executive director and CEO. “Our customers do not experience long wait times or other problems with clearing security that can be the case at some other airports.”
Barbara Malone, the Republican chairwoman of the Municipal Corporations Committee, expressed doubt that the proposed resolution would even advance to the council floor.
Even if Coleman’s push were to win out, it’s not clear whether passengers would notice much of a change at the security checkpoint. The TSA would still be in charge of setting security protocol — and the rules screeners must follow.

But Coleman, the council’s only Libertarian, said he wants the airport to send a message.
“Some of it’s just ridiculous,” he said about the procedures, citing widely publicized allegations of TSA agents groping children or the elderly.
And the use of the full-body scanners for some travelers is over the top, he said, especially since their safety hasn’t been fully vetted. “I always wanted a pair of glasses that would do the exact same thing,” Coleman said with a laugh.
The TSA has disputed that the new scanners are excessively revealing and say security measures ensure images are viewed remotely and kept secure.

Indianapolis is among 70 airports using the scanners. Travelers who are uncomfortable with them can request a pat-down search — though those, too, have become more invasive under the new rules.
Malone said she shares Coleman’s concerns about the security measures, but she doesn’t see how his proposal would address them. It will come up for a hearing next month, and Malone plans to invite airport officials to attend.
“My sense is that the airport’s stuck with the TSA, for better or for worse,” she said.
Democratic Minority Leader Joanne Sanders said Coleman’s proposal was misguided: “You cannot privatize the world, I’m sorry. There are certain functions that are done better by the government, and this is one.”

Sixteen airports already use private screening contractors; the largest are in San Francisco and Kansas City, Mo., which participated in a pilot program soon after the TSA’s creation after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Congress required the TSA to create an opt-out program for airports. The TSA awards contracts for each participating airport and foots the bill.
Orlando, Fla., airport officials are considering going the private route. In Albuquerque, N.M., airport officials are resisting a city councilman’s push for privatization.
In Indianapolis, the Airport Authority’s Clark said he would consider other options if he saw evidence that privatization would save a substantial amount or provide better security than the TSA.

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