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Privatization Of Airport Security On Hold

Charlotte-Douglas Airport has had some well-publicized security breaches lately. There's the teenager who snuck into the landing gear of a plane, and burglars who cut perimeter fencing and stole equipment. Those security failures on airport grounds were a local responsibility. Despite those troubles, Airport Director Jerry Orr says he'd like to take over passenger screening from the federal government. But a recent TSA decision makes it unlikely that Orr will get his wish anytime soon. Orr has made no secret of his dissatisfaction with TSA's passenger screening strategies. He scoffed when they introduced puffer machines that turned out not to work so well. That was long before the recent flap about the body scanners and pat downs. "The TSA is always addressing yesterday's threats and doing it with a great deal of personnel and money," says Orr. "We just think it can be done better." Sixteen airports have been granted permission by TSA to handle their own passenger screening. But their freedom is limited mainly to hiring the people who will man the security checkpoints. TSA managers still oversee the process and mandate the equipment and screening procedures. Orr says that wasn't enough flexibility to bother applying for permission to privatize security in Charlotte. "They're not giving up anything," says Orr of the TSA's program for airports to "opt-out" of federally-run passenger screening. "They're just changing the people that do the job." Now, the door has closed. In late January, TSA director John Pistole announced he'll no longer grant permission for airports to privatize the job of patting down and scanning passengers. "I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time," said Pistole in a statement. Several members of Congress are pushing TSA to loosen its grip and give local airports more authority over passenger screening - particularly after the outcry over new full-body scanners. If that happens, Charlotte airport officials would be very interested in privatizing security here. But they'd have to prove they're capable of policing both the terminals and perimeter, despite recent high-profile security breaches.