NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

FEDERAL VS. PRIVATE

June 24, 2004

Results of three studies - by the General Accounting Office, by the inspector general of the Homeland Security Department, and by BearingPoint, a consulting firm hired by the Transportation Security Administration - comparing performance at privately and federally screened airports were announced at a Congressional hearing in April.

Although the detailed results are classified, it is clear that the studies reached the same conclusion: there was no statistical evidence of different performance at federally and privately screened airports.

The researchers also found:

  • Of the five privately screened airports, only Kansas City performed better than federally screened ones in its class - and that difference could easily have occurred by chance.
  • The cost of operating the privately screened airports was about $1.3 million less, on average, than what the cost was estimated to have been under federal screeners based on traffic flows and other factors, but this figure does not do justice to the uncertainty underlying the calculation.
  • There is a 95 percent chance that the true difference from using private screeners falls between it being $3 million more costly to $5.6 million cheaper, a huge range.

According to economics professor Alan B. Krueger, there is simply not enough evidence to conclude with any reasonable degree of certainty whether, as a group, private or federal screeners performed better or cost less. Also, he says, each study suffered from two unavoidable flaws: The sample size was too small and the five privately screened airports were not selected at random.

Source: Alan B. Krueger, "Private vs. Public at Airports," New York Times, June 26, 2004.

 

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