- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

Tuesday's unsettling announcement by Transporation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta that "an unacceptable number of deficiencies continue to occur" at U.S. airports following Monday's warning of another possible round of terror attacks by Attorney General John Ashcroft ought to jolt Congress into quickly passing the air-travel security bill put forward by congressional Republicans. The vote in the House could come as early as today.
Democrats, as well as some 15 Republicans, are in favor of federalizing the baggage screeners, effectively making them de facto law-enforcement officers. Most Republicans favor a different approach that would give the president the choice of using private contractors or public workers to handle baggage-screening chores. The president spent a good part of the week trying to win over several Republican lawmakers who have sided with the Democratic idea of federalizing baggage screeners, including Reps. Ray LaHood of Illinois and Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri. Most unfortunately, that list also includes Arizona Sen. John McCain, who authored the Senate legislation and considers "law enforcement to be a federal function," even though baggage handlers are not trained police officers of any sort, and the problems associated with this idea are staggering. Mr. McCain appears determined to oppose the president solely for opposition's sake. He probably doesn't mind the publicity.
The president and most congressional Republicans believe the problems of poor training and low standards can be fixed without creating a new class of federal bureaucrat. If anything, given the past performance of large-scale bureaucratic endeavors, the cost issue alone would be enormous and intractable.
On the positive side, both the Democratic and Republican proposals would provide for armed sky marshals on airplanes though it's not likely the resources exist to place one on every flight. A much better alternative would be to arm the pilots an idea supported by overwhelming majorities of the public in every opinion poll conducted and endorsed by pilots themselves as well as one of the major pilots' unions.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mineta said that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will take immediate and drastic measures, if need be, to prevent security lapses from leading to tragedy. "If a secure area is breached, FAA agencts will empty the concourse, re-screen passengers, and, if necessary, hold flights," he said. These actions could lead to significant delays, perhaps further undermining the still-shaky airline industry and the flying public. However, such delays my be necessary even encouraged if that's what it takes in the short term.
Still, the longer-term strategy can best be achieved by passing the Republican version of the air travel security bill. The president knows what he's doing. Even Mr. Mineta, a former Democratic representative, avidly supports him on this one. Congress should as well.


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