NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Why Federalizing Airport Security Is A Bad Idea

October 24, 2001

The Senate has passed legislation that would give us a government-run passenger-screening process at airports nationwide. The House has the measure under consideration.

Critics see a number of flaws in the proposal:

  • It concentrates on passengers and ignores the thousands of caterers, cleaners, refuelers and others with access to airports and jets who lack mandatory background checks or ID cards.
  • It is essential to be able to discipline or fire incompetent or untrustworthy security personnel -- but that would be nearly impossible to do in a federal civil-service bureaucracy.
  • Passenger airports vary enormously in size and design -- so a "one size fits all" solution mandated from the top down is likely to be a poor fit at many airports.
  • Policymakers should admit that no one yet has "the answer" for implementing more effective and affordable airport security -- and although all sorts of solutions are being proposed, no one knows how costly or effective they will be.

Critics argue that a regime of tough federal outcome standards makes better sense than federalizing the entire system.

Many European airports tried the federalized approach and later abandoned it for a privatized approach. Either corporations were created to manage security or private firms were hired to undertake the task. This approach has demonstrated success.

Source: Robert W. Poole Jr. (Reason Public Policy Institute), "Safest Course to Airport Security," Washington Times, October 24, 2001.

 

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