Crime & Courts

TSA won't hire private contractors as screeners

ORLANDO, Fla. —The Transportation Security Administration said it will not hire private contractors to screen airline passengers, despite calls from a powerful Florida congressman to do so and passenger complaints about federal screeners.

TSA Administrator John Pistole said in a memo to his employees late Friday that the federal agency will keep private contractors at 16 U.S. airports, but will not use them anywhere else unless a clear advantage emerges.

Pistole's memo comes two months after Florida Republican Rep. John Mica wrote to the country's busiest airports and asked them to use private security guards. Mica's request came as the issue of airport security intensified, with passengers uneasy over full-body scans and a more intrusive style of pat-down searches.

Since the TSA was created after 9/11, federal law has allowed airports the option of using private screeners. But few of the nation's roughly 460 commercial airports have done so.

Mica, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, vowed to fight the TSA's decision.

"Nearly every positive security innovation since the beginning of TSA has come from the contractor screening program," he said in a statement. "I intend to launch a full investigation and review of this matter."

The American Federation of Government Employees, the nation's largest federal employee union, praised Pistole's decision.

"The nation is secure in the sense that the safety of our skies will not be left in the hands of the lowest-bidder contractor, as it was before 9/11," AFGE National President John Gage said in a statement.

Many of the companies that could have gained new business with privatization of airport security have also contributed to Mica's campaign coffers. An Associated Press analysis in November of contributions over the past 13 years found that Mica has received almost $81,000 in campaign donations from political action committees and executive connected to some of the private contractors currently at U.S. airports.

Some of the donations came before those companies won government contracts, and Mica spokesman Justin Harclerode has said those contributions never improperly influenced the congressman.