- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 13, 2001

The Bush administration yesterday called on Congress to promptly resolve differences over an aviation-security bill, an issue made more high profile by the crash of an American Airlines flight in New York.
"The president continues to believe that aviation security is an urgent matter and urges Congress to come together on the issue as quickly as possible," said White House spokeswoman Anne Womack.
Staff members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee met yesterday to try to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills.
The House passed a bill that would allow airlines to hire private security firms as airport screeners and guards. The Senate bill would require that all aviation-security personnel be federal employees with law enforcement authority. President Bush has said he favors the Republican-sponsored House bill.
The president's call for quick action was joined by lawmakers.
"Regardless of the cause of this crash, we have to get a strong bill passed this week," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican. "The American public needs it to give them confidence and we have no excuse not to do it."
When negotiations on the aviation-security bill resume today, she plans to push for a requirement that 100 percent of checked baggage should be inspected.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said the crash yesterday might motivate Republicans to get "off their duff" to approve the aviation-security bill.
He also said the National Guard should be recruited to help check all checked baggage and "not just standing there looking good." Mr. Gephardt has said he favors federalizing the work force of airport screeners.
There is a good chance negotiations between the House and Senate could result in a final proposal for the president to sign this week, said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican and a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Mr. Bush has implied he would not veto a bill that federalizes aviation-security workers.
Mr. Lott, during a televised interview on CNN, agreed that Congress should act quickly.
"We need to get it done this week," he said. "There are only two or three areas of major disagreement. One is should it be done by the Transportation Department or the Justice Department. I think we're going to put it under Transportation, under a new office of security there in that department."
The senator predicted the final bill for the president would impose a tax on airline tickets to pay for added security.
He also said that in large cities the airport-security personnel probably would all be federal employees but at rural airports airlines could hire private security firms. The federal government would maintain management oversight.
Meanwhile, the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group for the business travel industry, warned that the American Airlines Flight 587 crash further damages public confidence in the airline industry and hurts businesses that depend on it.
After the crash, White House officials said the Federal Aviation Administration followed a new set of security procedures instituted after the September 11 attack on America. The FAA refused to disclose details of the new arrangement. "After September 11 we heightened security all of over the country," said Arlene Salac, FAA spokeswoman. "There were a number of procedures that have been changed, but we haven't been talking about specifics on those."
The National Transportation Safety Board is the lead government agency investigating the crash. Between 60 and 100 NTSB investigators will be at the crash site until the investigation concludes, said Marion Blakey, NTSB chairman.
Initial investigative actions included recovering the Airbus A-300's flight data recorder, checking the passenger list against an FBI watch list of suspected terrorists and reviewing the airplane's maintenance record.
"I think it's too early for me to advance theories on this," Miss Blakey said. She said a preliminary check of maintenance records showed "nothing that is indicative of a specific problem today."
More complete information should be available after the NTSB reviews tapes from the flight data recorder, she said.
The NTSB is coordinating its efforts with a separate investigative team from the FBI.


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