The 2016 GOP platform approved at the Republican National Convention calls for overhauling the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a familiar conservative idea recycled from previous party blueprints.
But this year’s document points to a new reason to push for TSA reform: massive lines at security checkpoints, which started forming at airports around the country this spring.
“Americans understand that, with the threat of terrorism, their travel may encounter delays, but unacceptably long lines at security checks can have the same impact as a collapsed bridge or washed out highway,” the document says.
The Republican platform also says that unionization has never been permitted in any government agency that handles national security — except when it comes to the TSA.
“We will correct that mistake,” the document says. “TSA employees should always be seen as guardians of the public’s safety, not as just another part of the federal workforce.”
The TSA, which was created in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has been a punching bag for Republicans for years. The GOP platform in 2012 said that the “massive bureaucracy” has no accountability for how it treats travelers and said the American public agrees that changes need to be made.
“We call for the private sector to take over airport screening wherever feasible and look toward the development of security systems that can replace the personal violation of frisking,” the 2012 document states.
But recent overwhelmed security lines — with three-hour wait times in some cases and thousands of missed flights around the country — have ramped up calls to replace the TSA with a private workforce.
The blame has been largely directed at the TSA. The agency cut its staff in recent years anticipating enrollment in its PreCheck program would expedite the overall screening process, but not enough passengers signed up. Meanwhile, air travel volumes began to increase dramatically this spring and summer.
Agents also came under fire for a series of high-profile security lapses last year, including a gun-smuggling operation uncovered in Atlanta and a report that screeners failed covert security tests nearly 100 percent of the time.
Officials in New York, Chicago, Atlanta and other busy aviation hubs began taking a harder look at whether replacing TSA with private security firms would help improve screening operations.
Republican lawmakers have seized on the growing frustration to renew their calls for airport privatization.
“These firestorms online and in the media have brought new attention to our broken airport security system, a problem that has been slowly growing for years,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in an op-ed for CNN earlier this year. “But if we really ‘hate the wait’ and want to fix it, the solution couldn't be any simpler: let's get the TSA out of the airport screening business altogether.”
The TSA has said that private sector screeners cost 3 to 9 percent more than federal screeners, while some experts say there's little evidence that shows private airport security is more effective or efficient.
Commercial airports can apply for TSA’s Screening Partnership Program, which allows private companies to conduct screening services under federal oversight. Currently, just 21 airports participate in the program.