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Get Rid Of TSA, Let Us Do Airport Security Ourselves, Aldermen Say

By Ted Cox | May 18, 2016 12:16pm | Updated on May 18, 2016 4:55pm
 Passengers at O'Hare International Airport wait in long lines to be screened at a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint.
Passengers at O'Hare International Airport wait in long lines to be screened at a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint.
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Getty Images/Scott Olson

CITY HALL — Moving to address long lines for passenger screening at O'Hare and Midway, four aldermen proposed Wednesday that Chicago do its own screening and remove the U.S. Transportation Security Administration from the process.

"The TSA has failed us," said Ald. Edward Burke (14th). "Chicago is a world-class city, and passengers should not have to be subjected to these long and agonizing delays. We need to put a system in place that is not only more flexible, but also accountable."

According to Burke, 21 U.S. airports, including those in San Francisco and Kansas City, conduct their own passenger screening through a federal Screening Partnership Program.

Burke dismissed fears of another Sept. 11.

"It's a mess," Ald. Edward Burke says of airport security procedures under the TSA.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

"It's working in San Francisco isn't it?" Burke said. "And it's working in 20 other airports across the country. What we do know is it's not working here with TSA."

Burke called on the city to "give private industry a chance to show whether or not they can do it right."

Earlier this week, 450 American Airlines passengers missed flights due to long security lines. Chicagoans have bristled at airline requests to arrive three hours early for flights.

"It's a mess," Burke said. "Anybody who's traveled on airplanes in America the last few months knows it's a mess."

According to Burke, TSA is working with 3,000 fewer screeners nationwide than five years ago.

"Does that make any sense?" Burke said. "Does it take this kind of crisis to wake up the people in Washington?"

The TSA has vowed to hire 800 more screening officers, but the union representing them has said that's insufficient to solve the problem.

RELATED: Why Are the Lines at O'Hare and Midway So Long?

Burke said New York City and Atlanta had already asked to join the 21 airports taking part in the partnership program, in which local contractors screen passengers and baggage "under federal oversight in compliance with TSA security procedures." Insisting the federal government would pay for it, he added, "Chicago should also be doing the same."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, however, pulled up short of endorsing the proposal, although he embraced its aims.

"It's a wake-up call to TSA," Emanuel said after Wednesday's City Council meeting. "This was a human error of a tremendous magnitude. And it's unacceptable and, the sad part about it, it was avoidable."

Yet Emanuel advocated using the partnership program as a threat to gain leverage and get changes made. "I'm not saying I'm open" to it, he said. "I'm saying it's a tool in the toolbox."

Emanuel said he had summoned TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger to Chicago on Friday to discuss necessary changes to make O'Hare and Midway "smooth-running."

Burke was joined Wednesday by Aldermen Margaret Laurino (39th), Danny Solis (25th) and Michael Zalewski (23rd), chairman of the Aviation Committee, in submitting a resolution calling for Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans to apply for the Screening Partnership Program.

"With the summer travel season fast approaching, we must act now to ensure that Chicago's airports, which serve more than 90 million passengers annually, are positioned to effectively and expeditiously screen all of those passengers," Zalewski said.

"Given the TSA's dismal staffing record, I believe the only real solution is to appeal to use our own screeners," Solis added.

Laurino said, "I have little faith that this situation will not repeat itself in the future" if the city doesn't act to install its own screeners.

RELATED: TSA Workers Hate the Long Lines as Much As You Do

The resolution will be considered by a joint committee on Aviation and Finance.

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