- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

Half empty

We're practically into the second year of the Bush administration and nearly half of President Bush's nominees to 508 senior government positions have yet to be confirmed by the Democrat-led Senate.

"The process remains deeply flawed, and the growing number of nominees mired in the pipeline is evidence of that," says Paul C. Light, senior adviser to the Brookings Institution's Presidential Appointee Initiative, which wants an "overhaul" of the congressional confirmation process.

Dozens of senior posts central to the war against terrorism, including bioterrorism protection and homeland defense, remain vacant, adds Mr. Light.

Still-vacant posts include director of the National Institutes of Health, deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict.

Flying solo

A revelation in this column this week that armed sky marshals, contrary to popular belief, are not aboard every flight in and out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport has airline pilots shaking their heads.

"I asked the co-pilot as we were entering the plane if pilots would be notified ahead of time as to whether or not there was a sky marshal on board," says Washington-area resident Susan Davis, who was aboard a US Airways flight that departed Reagan on Tuesday. "He said that they would, but of course, [the pilot said] every flight into and out of Washington, D.C., does have a sky marshal on it, as required by FAA.

"I handed him the [Inside the Beltway] 'Smoke and Mirrors' article, which I happened to have with me, and let him take it in the cockpit and share it with his captain. This pilot also thought it was a requirement and did not know that it was not a requirement, as so many of the rest of us have," says Mrs. Davis.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Bill Schumann told us this week that, contrary to media reports, air marshals are not necessarily aboard every flight in and out of Reagan the last major airport to reopen in the wake of September 11 because of its proximity to Washington and its landmarks.

"We have never said that [air marshals] are or are not on every flight into and out of Reagan," Mr. Schumann insists.

We'd contacted the FAA after learning that a man of Middle Eastern descent stood up and walked into a bathroom of Reagan-bound American Airlines Flight 684 from Miami on Sunday, several minutes after the pilot warned passengers to stay in their seats for 30 minutes until landing a federal rule since September 11.

Passengers were described as "horrified" when nobody stopped the man. Last month, a former Capitol Hill staffer aboard a US Airways flight from Pittsburgh to Reagan was tackled by two armed sky marshals when he similarly rose from his seat, and the plane was diverted to Washington Dulles International Airport.

Meanwhile, Inside the Beltway learned yesterday that the captain of US Airways Flight 1403, departing Reagan for Charlotte on Tuesday, similarly announced upon takeoff that passengers were to remain in their seats until further notice.

"Twenty minutes into the flight," says a passenger, "a man stood up, went to the bathroom and came back to his seat. When I asked the flight attendant how that could happen, he said he didn't see it. In fact, the other flight attendant did see it, but apparently it did not register. As a result of my comments to the one flight attendant, the other received some criticism, and it seems to have been dealt with."

And Washington-area resident Albert Parisian reveals he was aboard American Airlines Flight 1566 on approach to Reagan from Dallas-Fort Worth last Thursday when a passenger in seat 23B "got up from his aisle seat approximately five minutes before landing. He was approached by at least two flight attendants, and I heard the words 'FAA regulations' being used, but the passenger successfully (for him) adopted a good-humored 'aw shucks' attitude to get around the verbal instructions he was being given.

"The passenger deplaned without being approached by authorities I watched," says Mr. Parisian, who filed complaints the next day with American Airlines and the FAA. "I am not a qualified commentator on airline security. I do believe that [the passenger] in 23B, and anyone else that went along with his apparent willingness to not take the rules seriously, is helping to train our collective alertness to something less than what it should be."

Hallowed Hill

It's only fitting, given that passengers and crew aboard hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 overpowered their terrorist hijackers and caused the plane to crash in southwestern Pennsylvania, that a memorial plaque to the victims will be placed on the grounds of the hijackers' apparent target the U.S. Capitol.

In addition, we've learned, at the direction of Congress the names of each victim will be engraved on the plaque and a copy of the wording sent to a designated survivor of each victim.

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