Infrastructure & Environment

Airports, Cities File Lawsuit Against TSA

The dispute centers over who is responsible for funding and managing security at "exit lanes."
December 9, 2013

Airports have filed a lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration in an effort to beat back new federal rules requiring that they take over security at airport "exit lanes" next year.

The dispute stems over who is responsible for securing the one-way corridors used by passengers arriving by plane at the airport as they pass from the gates to baggage claim and airport exits.

Since TSA's inception in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the feds have manned those areas in order to prevent unauthorized people from entering the terminal without going through screening.

But the agency began notifying airports in October that, next year, the airports themselves would take over that job. Airports quickly balked, arguing that the switch would cost them huge sums of money and force them to take on a job that's not their responsibly.

About 155 airports got the order from TSA, and 124 opposed the move and asked the agency to reconsider. Those appeals were denied, and they'll be required to take on the additional role Feb. 1, barring the intervention of a federal court.

Last week's lawsuit, filed by two trade associations representing airports, along with 18 governmental jurisdictions that oversee airports -- including the cities of Chicago and Los Angeles -- asks a federal court to review the issue. They're also requesting a stay, arguing that any change in exit lane policy should be put on hiatus until the court has time to make a decision.

TSA is slated to respond to the suit by Dec. 19.

The federal agency estimates it will cost airports $130 million to make the change in its first year, but airports themselves believe the cost could be even higher, says Scott Lewis, an attorney representing the airports.

Lewis says it seems the only reason TSA wants to change its long-standing policy is to save money. "(I)n TSA's communications with the airports, TSA has pointed to fiscal concerns as the root of their decision to mandate a shift in responsibility," Lewis tells Governing.

TSA officials don't necessarily disagree. This fall, a spokesman for the agency told Governing that the shift made sense for the agency since it would allow the feds to more efficiently use their resources to target high-risk passengers.

TSA also argues that the exit lanes are indeed airports' responsibility under federal law. The debate centers on whether exit lanes are considered a part of security and screening, which falls on the feds, or "access control," which falls on the airports.

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