"The notion that all-privatized is all better — I have a philosophical difference with him on that," Pistole said. "Whether every airport is privatized or TSA provides the security, the taxpayer is still paying."
TSA compared costs at airports using private screeners versus government employees in a 2011 study, concluding that private screeners cost 3 percent more, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Orlando Sanford International Airport, Sacramento International Airport and three Montana airports have sought to switch to private screeners since the FAA bill passed. The TSA has given the airports preliminary approval to seek proposals from prospective contractors.
The shortcoming in that approach, according to a staff report published this month by Rogers's subcommittee, is that most airports don't want to risk the TSA's wrath by seeking permission to replace the agency's screeners. An alternative, Rogers said, would be to create a list of pre-approved screening contractors that airports could choose from, leaving the TSA to supervise security.
Private screeners, employed at the time by the airlines, failed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents TSA screeners.
Companies may underbid to win contracts that will appear at first to save money, Cox said. Experience throughout the government shows that costs rise as contracts grow more complicated, he said.
"This country has been there and done that," Cox said. "We saw what a disaster it was."
Airports will support Rogers' approach on screeners, said Deborah McElroy, executive vice president of policy and external affairs at the Airports Council International-North America, a Washington-based trade group. Some airport managers prefer contractors while others think their relationship with the TSA is fine, she said.