- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

President Bush and congressional leaders pledged yesterday to resolve their differences quickly over an aviation-security bill while House Democrats and Republicans scrambled for support in the vote scheduled for today.
"We'd like the right steps to be taken, but again the main thing is we get this done," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, after meeting with the president at the White House.
The president also met with lawmakers who represent possible swing votes in an outcome that is still too close to call.
Both parties agree the current system needs to be changed to include more government oversight. They disagree on whether airport screeners should be federal or private employees.
The House Republican leadership says making all 28,000 aviation-security personnel federal employees would create another government bureaucracy and diminish aviation safety by making the workers hard to fire for poor performance.
President Bush sides with the House Republicans. He also wants a provision in the bill that would give him the flexibility to decide which of the security personnel should be private and which should be federalized.
Democrats say turning the screeners into federal law-enforcement personnel would give them greater authority and ensure a higher pay scale that would attract more qualified workers. The Democratic proposal is the same as the Senate bill that passed unanimously Oct. 11.
Travelers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport yesterday showed the same mix of feelings found in Congress.
"I'm in favor of federalizing it," said James Beane, a college professor from Madison, Wis., who is attending an educational conference in Washington. "I think the government has an obligation to ensure aviation security for the foreseeable future."
One problem often cited with private-contract security personnel is that airlines give the contracts to the lowest bidders. The security firms, which hire the airport screeners who check passengers and baggage, try to reduce their costs by paying low wages. That, in turn, contributes to high turnover and inexperienced workers.
With a federalized work force, "I think there's more assurance they would be reasonably paid," Mr. Beane said.
In addition, he said, "I think it would tie in better with other government efforts to prevent terrorism."
However, Dave Miller, a Defense Department contracts specialist from Huntsville, Ala., said a federal work force is not always a better alternative than private contractors.
"If you take the time to stress the standards that are supposed to be enforced under the contract, you can get just as good a work force as with federal employees," Mr. Miller said. "Everything comes down to the standards that are set."
Linda Maslowski, a Lincoln, Neb., resident attending a business meeting in Washington, agreed.
"I guess I don't see the benefit of having federal employees unless they raise the standards," she said. Whatever choice Congress makes for the airport screeners, it should include "higher standards, higher pay, higher criteria for hiring them and more comprehensive training."
Orin Heend, an educational technology consultant from Arlington, said failures in any employment system can be equally common with either federal or private work forces.
"I've seen the federal sector screw things up, I've seen the private sector screw things up," Mr. Heend said. "I'm for whoever is going to give the best security."


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