No More Naked Pictures at Airport Security and Other Changes

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But did you know 16 airports already have private contractors doing the jobs of TSA officers? These range from big facilities like San Francisco and Kansas City International to smaller airports in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Tupelo, Miss.

Those airports chose to opt out of direct TSA security screening in favor of the Screening Partnership Program (SSP), which has been around since the TSA was formed in 2001. In essence, the partnership program uses private screeners who perform the same security duties as the federal workforce, though oversight remains with the TSA.

As I said, some think this is a great idea; after all, if customers, meaning passengers, aren't happy with a security officer, a private company could simply get rid of that worker, right? Well, that's a big maybe, but it doesn't matter now because TSA Administrator John Pistole has suspended the program.

"TSA should be a federal counterterrorism agency, and we're best able to train, to deploy, to execute on our mission as a federal workforce," Pistole said earlier this month.

I'm not sure I understand that. The TSA does oversee these private security folks. Are we looking at a little empire building going on here?

This sure doesn't sit well with Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mica will reportedly launch an investigation into the decision to suspend the program.

I know Mica has concerns about the TSA's SPOT program, too. SPOT involves roving "Behavior Detection" officers at 161 airports who have received instruction on how to spot certain "unusual" behaviors. Length of instruction for those officers: four days. Cost of program: $212 million.

Meanwhile, to add to the Orwellian fun, Pistole is reportedly nevertheless still open to "new ideas and new opportunities" involving private screeners. Huh? I'm getting whiplash.

I bet Pistole's workforce is feeling a little whiplashed too. First, the 40,000 TSA employees have been told they can unionize, and they'll vote on whether to do so in March and April. However, if they do opt to unionize, Pistole has already said they have no right to engage in any work slowdown or strike.

Good news if you're a flyer, since that's one less delay to worry about. But it's not so good for a unionized employee, I would think. Makes you wonder whether some of those TSA officers are feeling beleaguered enough to worry about protecting their own junk.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website, FareCompare.com, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.

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