Rep. John Mica Pushes For TSA Privatization

No big surprise here. Republicans want to use the recent outrage over the aggressive screening tactics being used by the TSA at airports as an excuse to privatize it. As Steve Benen noted this weekend, that of course doesn't solve the problem and
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No big surprise here. Republicans want to use the recent outrage over the aggressive screening tactics being used by the TSA at airports as an excuse to privatize it. As Steve Benen noted this weekend, that of course doesn't solve the problem and just brings with it a whole new set of concerns.

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.

Mica of course also blew off accusations that any of the companies that provide airport security that have made campaign contributions to him might be influencing his push to privatize airport security. As News 4 in Jacksonville noted:

TSA spokesman Greg Soule would not respond directly Mica's letter, but reiterated the nation's roughly 460 commercial airports have the option of applying to use private contractors.

Companies that provide airport security are contributors to Mica's campaigns, although some donations came before those companies won government contracts. The Lockheed Martin Corp. Employees' Political Action Committee has given $36,500 to Mica since 1997. A Lockheed firm won the security contract in Sioux Falls, S.D. in 2005 and the contract for San Francisco the following year.

Raytheon Company's PAC has given Mica $33,500 since 1999. A Raytheon subsidiary began providing checkpoint screenings at Key West International Airport in 2007.

FirstLine Transportation Security Inc.'s PAC has donated $4,500 to the Florida congressman since 2004. FirstLine has been screening baggage and has been responsible for passenger checkpoints at the Kansas City International Airport since 2006, as well as the Gallup Municipal Airport and the Roswell Industrial Air Center in New Mexico, operating at both since 2007.

Since 2006, Mica has received $2,000 from FirstLine President Keith Wolken and $1,700 from Gerald Berry, president of Covenant Aviation Security. Covenant works with Lockheed to provide security at airports in Sioux Falls and San Francisco.

Mica spokesman Justin Harclerode said the contributions never improperly influenced the congressman, who said he was unaware Raytheon or Lockheed were in the screening business.

"They certainly never contacted him about providing screening," Harclerode said.

No matter who's doing these screenings I'm glad we're seeing some push back on the tactics being used. From all I've watched on this over the last week or two, I don't know why we're not scrapping the machines and the pat downs for bomb sniffing dogs and questioning passengers who might actually pose a security risk. I would suspect the likes of Michael Chertoff and his ilk making money off of these scanning machines and still having too much influence over our politicians might have something to do with it.

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