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Top Aldermen Want To Boot TSA, Privatize Chicago Airport Security

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Some powerful Chicago aldermen want to get rid of TSA officers at Chicago's two airports, and switch to private security officers, in an effort to alleviate the dreadfully long lines at security checkpoints.

Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke (14th), Aviation Committee Chairman Michael Zalewski (23rd), and two other aldermen said Chicago should follow the lead of cities like San Francisco, Orlando, and Kansas City and join the federal Screening Partnership Program.

Burke said 21 U.S. airports use private firms to screen passengers, and he is co-sponsoring a resolution calling on Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans to apply for the TSA Screening Partnership Program at O'Hare and Midway airports.

"It's working in San Francisco, isn't it? And it's working in 20 other airports around the country. What we do know is it's not working here with TSA, so maybe it's an opportunity to give private industry a chance to show whether or not they can do it right," Burke said.

The TSA already has pledged to send 58 new security officers and four extra bomb-sniffing canine teams to O'Hare in the next couple weeks. In addition, 100 current TSA officers at O'Hare and Midway Airport will be moved from part-time duty to full-time duty within days to help during peak travel hours, and 250 more officers will be added to the airports by August. More morning shifts also will be added, and authorized overtime will be tripled.

Even with the extra help being approved by the TSA, Ald. Danny Solis (25th), who also co-sponsored the privatization proposal, said the need is obvious.

"We are really hurting the industry, we're hurting constituents, that they can't get on a plane on time; and I think if you look at it, it could also be an opportunity if you try to expand it to the private sector. We've got a number of security companies both in Chicago and nationally that I think could fit the bill, if properly vetted," he said.


A day after Mayor Rahm Emanuel seemed to shoot down the idea of privatizing airport security, he hedged on the issue, but stopped short of rejecting the idea outright.

"I'm not saying I'm open. I'm saying it's a tool in the toolbox," Emanuel said. "The fact is, with both New York looking at this, Atlanta looking at it, and now Chicago, it's a wakeup call to TSA that this was a human error of tremendous magnitude, and it's unacceptable, and the sad part about it, it was avoidable."

The mayor said he warned Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson weeks ago that security lines at O'Hare and Midway – and other airports across the country – would be getting worse and worse as summer approaches, because of staffing cuts at TSA, but he said it's too soon to decide whether to privatize security at O'Hare and Midway.

"You don't just kind of rush into it. That said, I want to make sure we have the resources here in the city of Chicago so that people flying out of both O'Hare and Midway – which are so important to the economic vitality of the city, and the job creation, and the jobs that are being formed here in the city – that they are smooth-running," he said.

TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger has announced plans to be in Chicago on Friday to meet with his team here, and get a first-hand look at operations at Chicago's airports.

Burke said the TSA has cut 2,500 security screeners over the past four years.

According to the resolution, privatizing airport security would give the airports more flexibility on staffing and operating hours of screening staff to make the process more efficient.

The private companies would have to be closely screened themselves, and Burke said the federal government should pay for the personnel.

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