NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Should Baggage Screeners Be Federal Employees?

October 10, 2001

Add airport baggage screener to the list of occupations that are so important they can only be performed by government workers -- federal and unionized, of course -- editorializes USA Today.

It says airport security reforms are stalled by "ideologically driven" Republicans who are resisting the Democrats' proposal to add baggage screeners to the federal payroll. Free-market principles "don't apply to this circumstance."

The editorial trots out the "race-to-the-bottom" argument -- that private competing firms have incentives to hire the lowest-paid, least qualified workers and a "bottom-line mentality" that "prevents a singular focus on safety," while federal workers would be well qualified and highly motivated.

  • But undercutting its argument about the superiority of government workers, USA Today also argues that these federal employees could be held accountable for their performance because, unlike other federal civil servants, a Senate bill would "allow these new workers to be fired at government discretion."
  • However, Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) points out that it wasn't airport screeners, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that failed after six years of congressional directives to put certification standards in place for the companies that contract with airlines to do the screening.
  • And it is FAA rules that put airlines in charge of screening and allow them to contract with the lowest-bidding firms.
  • In Europe -- and Israel -- the most effective airport-security systems use private screening companies, and workers are well-trained, well-paid and have low turnover.
  • Moreover, some of the same companies that handle U.S. airport security are responsible for security at European airports -- the difference is more resources and government oversight.

Republicans have drafted legislation, says Mica, that would direct the federal government to take control of the screening function from the airlines, establish standards and contract with private firms.

Source: Editorial, "Overhaul, Don't Tweak, Baggage-Screener System," and John L. Mica, "Enlist Help of Private Firms," both USA Today, October 10, 2001.


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