Recently, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced a bill that would improve the administration of TSA’s Screening Partnership Program (SPP).  In its current state, the SPP allows TSA to contract with private companies to carry out screening services but has been limited in scope due to numerous policies that have deterred both airports and security companies from participating in the program.

According to Senator Lee’s official website, the Screening Partnership Reform Act would act as a pair of legal shears, clearing “some of the bureaucratic red-tape surrounding the program” while still maintaining the highest levels of aviation security.

What does the Act actually propose?

The bill—which has been introduced and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation—would increase the role of airport operators in the private screening company selection process by mandating that the TSA Administrator provide the airport operator with an opportunity to select a qualified private screening company or request that the Administrator select a private screening company himself.  This selection must occur within 30 days of TSA receiving the application from the operator and would include an additional 60-day period for the operator to select another company if the Administrator rejected the previous bid.

In addition, the bill would allow private screening companies to conduct on-site training with a Federal employer, contractor, or an employee of a private screening company who has completed the training, rather than having staff travel to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia.

In order to further promote public-private cooperation and promote innovation, private screening companies could also submit recommendations to TSA on new and innovative approaches to screening practices.

No airports have moved to the SPP model based on cost.  Rather, airport operators have adopted SPP because they have wanted more choice.  These changes could further enhance this incentive, providing airports more room to maneuver in terms of selecting a vendor, training them, and potentially having the vendor propose process and/or technology enhancements to TSA.

Will this tip the scale in terms of additional U.S. airports turning to private vendors to run their security screening activities?  This remains to be seen, but it is important to note that the rules of the game are evolving, and Congressional stakeholders are encouraging TSA to further explore private models.  There has been talk for years of “fully privatizing a fast lane” in aviation security.  Perhaps Congress’s willingness to take a hard look at SPP could signal an opportunity for airports and airlines to further explore with TSA a fully private low-risk lane.

Need help navigating developments at DHS or TSA?  Want to learn more about the SPP program and related opportunities?  Give us a call.

By Brandon Miller, Associate, U.S. LAM LHA

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