TSA to stay on in SLO County

San Luis Obispo County has signed a three-year contract with the federal Transportation Security Administration, even as some airports nationwide are using private contractors for security.

The San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport had been on a month-to-month lease with the TSA, beginning in 2003.

The new agreement will bring in approximately $32,500 in rent over three years. Either party can bow out with a 120-day notice.

Several airports across the country are considering opting out of the TSA.

“The TSA has grown too big, and we’re unhappy with the way it’s doing things,” Larry Dale, president of Orlando Sanford International Airport, has told the media.

“My board is sold on the fact that the free enterprise system works well, and that we should go with a private company we can hold directly accountable for security and customer satisfaction,” Dale said.

Airports in Los Angeles, the Washington, D.C., metro area, Indianapolis and Charlotte, N.C., are also considering tossing the TSA, according to news reports.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who was recently named chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has encouraged the nation’s 200 biggest airports to opt out, calling TSA a “bloated, poorly focused and top-heavy bureaucracy,” according to news reports.

The public has been upset with full-body scanners used by the TSA.

However, that has not been a problem locally, according to Richard Howell, county airport manager.

“I have thought about this and dismissed it (opting out of involvement with the TSA) for the present time,” Howell wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune.

“I have received virtually no complaints about our TSA officers here and maintain a good working relationship with the federal security director in Santa Barbara, who is responsible for our airport,” Howell added.

If the county were to go with a private contractor, Howell wrote, “the major change would be accountability, with the sponsor airport having control over the contractor. As you might guess, this would be a very sharp double-edged sword.”

“Having some control would allow an airport to attempt to focus on customer service,” Howell continued. “By the same token, while protected from liability resulting from a security breach, the subject airport would also be responsible for any liabilities by error or omissions of the security company.”

“My focus,” Howell added, “has been to return our airport system to profitability, of which we are beginning to see positive results.”