LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Port Authority to TSA: Shape Up or We’ll Use Contractors

By Erin Delmore
Corresponedent

The Port Authority is putting the TSA on notice: Do your jobs better, or we’ll find someone else to.

The bi-state agency manages Newark Liberty, LaGuardia and JFK. It called security screening wait times “abysmal.” From a letter this month: “We can no longer tolerate the continuing inadequacy of TSA passenger screening services.” It’s looking into supplementing the workforce with contractors.

“That would be up to the Port Authority. They can look into that if they like; other airports have looked into that,” said Transportation Security Administration Spokesperson Lisa Farbstein.

Twenty-two airports do it. The Screening Partnership Program has private companies running the show.

“It is done with oversight from the TSA, so there’s no real loss of security there,” said TSA Regional Spokesperson Mark Howell.

“That would take years. I’d be concerned about the level of security that a private group would be able to maintain in terms of safety,” said Congressman Donald Payne Jr.

Payne is on the Homeland Security Committee. He pressured Congress to let the TSA hire more staff and pay overtime. The House voted Wednesday to shift $34 million between accounts to make it happen.

“I was down there a month or so for a trip and what I saw was astonishing. These coiling snake-like lines in the lower level of the airport just waiting to go up the escalators to get to TSA,” Payne said.

Passenger volume is up by 15 percent, just in the last three years. But in that same time, the TSA’s workforce shrunk by 10 percent. The TSA says that’s because it asked Congress to authorize less staff than years past thinking the Pre-Check program would take off. The application-only process expedites security screening for registered travelers. It’s one way the TSA says people can prepare for the summer crush.

The TSA says long wait times are just a result of more people at the airport. Cheap flights mean more travelers. Checked luggage fees mean more carry-ons to screen. The biggest culprit: human error. Spokespeople gave the media a demo of how to and how not to make your way through security. Shoes, liquids, laptops — you know the drill.

The TSA’s number one summer travel tip? It’s not surprising. Get to the airport early. They’re saying two hours before a domestic flight, three hours before an international flight.