- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 15, 2001

Aviation security has improved noticeably since the September 11 terrorist attacks but still does not meet standards desired by the federal government, Transportation Department officials told the Senate yesterday.
Among the lingering problems is the fact that less than 10 percent of checked baggage is inspected for bombs.
"I'd say overall there's been much improvement, but there are still alarming inconsistencies," Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
The hearing was intended to assess progress toward improving aviation security since September 11. Mr. Mead issued a report that included recommendations, many of which he said already were being implemented.
They included criminal background checks of airport screeners, expanding the air marshal program, intensifying searches of carry-on baggage, fortifying cockpit doors and limiting access to runways, aircraft and other restricted areas.
Mr. Mead based his report on audits of airport security nationwide since September 11. He said the inconsistent quality of airport security emphasized the need for a single new agency to oversee the programs.
In one case, a screener using a bomb-detection device was scheduled to work as much as 20 hours in one daily shift. By that time, Mr. Mead said, fatigue had rendered the screener incapable of doing his job adequately.
Another witness, representing the Association of Flight Attendants, said that after September 11 airlines ordered their flight attendants to conduct bomb searches of airplanes without giving them training. In another case, a pregnant flight attendant whose buttons on her maternity blouse set off a metal detector was subjected to a body search by overzealous security guards, she said.
Senators at the hearing used stories about airline-security problems to urge congressional leaders to move quickly on approving an aviation-security bill.
"It's long past the time when we should find common ground and try to pass this aviation-security legislation," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat who chairs the Governmental Affairs Committee. "There continue to be embarrassing and dangerous lapses in security."
He called the fact that less than 10 percent of checked baggage is searched for bombs "stunning."
The proposal being considered by a joint House-Senate committee on aviation security could eliminate many of the problems that witnesses mentioned at the hearing, he said.
Leaders of the conference committee met yesterday in a closed session to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills that could result in a final decision as soon as today. Disagreement mainly involves whether to make the nation's 28,000 airport screeners federal employees.
Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, said, "We need to get that legislation passed before Thanksgiving. Period."


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