Congress requires competition for for aviation security services

Published 9 June 2009

Despite heavy lobbying by airport managers, Congress insists that TSA must hold open and full competition for security background screening services for aviation workers

Despite a lobbying effort by airport executives, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reauthorization bill that passed the House last week retained a provision to require full and open competition for security background screening services for aviation workers. Washington Technology’s Alice Lipowicz writes that under the measure, TSA must seek competitive bids for the first time to process and transmit biometric fingerprint data needed for background checks on millions of aviation employees.

Since 2001 the work has been performed by the Transportation Security Clearinghouse, an entity owned by the American Association of Airport Executives, which was designated by TSA as the sole provider to perform that work. The clearinghouse collects fees from the aviation workers, currently $27 per worker. Under H. R. 2200, Section 233, TSA would be required to publish a notice in the Federal Register stating that airports may use any qualified provider for these services and must disclose the technical requirements.

Biometric executives supported the provision. “If this provision becomes law, all International Biometric Industry Association member companies (as well as non-member companies) that meet the requirements of TSA would have a chance to compete to provide these services to airports,” said Tovah LaDier senior vice president, said in a statement dated 5 June. She said the association would continue to promote the provision’s incorporation in a Senate bill.

Executives at more than 80 airports urged Congress to consider the risks of putting the work up for competition. “While competition in this area is a worthy goal, it must not come at the expense of a process that works well and that has served our industry and the cause of aviation security admirably for nearly eight years,” the executives wrote 2 June in a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House Homeland Security and Transportation committees.