- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 17, 2001

Congress passed an aviation bill yesterday that puts the federal government in control of security at the nation's airports.

President Bush plans to sign the legislation into law Monday.

The compromise bill passed in the House 410-9 only hours after passing in the Senate on a voice vote.

"This is a historic moment," said House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, the Alaska Republican who led the effort to keep the personnel who screen passengers and baggage as employees of private security companies. He called the legislation "the best security bill this nation has ever had for the flying public."

The measure would make the nation's 28,000 airport passenger and baggage screeners federal workers within one year and push the private firms that have employed them out of the business. After three years, airports could apply to the Transportation Department to have private businesses return to handle their screening.

Under the bill, screeners must be U.S. citizens. They would be barred from striking and can be disciplined or fired more easily than other federal employees. The bill also requires 100 percent baggage inspection by 2003 and widespread use of bomb-detection equipment.

"As families prepare for the biggest travel day in the nation, they can feel assured that airport security will be strengthened nationwide the very moment the president signs this landmark legislation into law," said Sen. Max Cleland, Georgia Democrat.

The legislation did not please security companies that airlines hire to screen passengers and baggage.

"This is clearly not the outcome we had hoped for, because we believed the real solution to aviation security is a strong public-private partnership," said David Beaton, chief executive of Argenbright Security Inc., the nation's largest airport-security company.

Argenbright does screening for airlines at 42 commercial airports, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Stock value for England's Securicor PLC, the parent company of Argenbright Security, fell yesterday to $169 in London from $176 a day earlier after news of the agreement in Congress. About 6,000 of Argenbright Security's employees will become federal employees or lose their jobs as the federal takeover is phased in during the next year.

Argenbright Security took over screening at BWI for Southwest Airlines and United Airlines Nov. 8.

The Maryland Aviation Administration, which manages BWI, demanded assurances from the airlines that Argenbright's screeners would have their backgrounds checked for criminal records before they started work. The company has been cited by the Federal Aviation Administration for hiring security personnel with criminal records.

"It's certainly good news," John White, spokesman for the Maryland Aviation Administration, said yesterday after the vote in Congress. "It's certainly what our governor has been asking for."

Another leading airport-security firm, International Total Services Inc., filed for bankruptcy protection Sept. 14, three days after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The company also does screening at Reagan Airport.

By Thanksgiving, travelers should start seeing more federal law enforcement officers at airport-security checkpoints and have more of their baggage searched.

Other provisions of the bill would create a new agency within the Transportation Department to oversee all transportation security; add a $2.50-per-flight fee to airline tickets to pay for security, up to a maximum of $5 per trip; expand the air-marshal program; require fortified cockpit doors; and use more cross-checking of passenger identities by law enforcement agencies.

Five airports that volunteer to experiment with alternative security strategies will be exempted from the requirement to use federal employees for screeners in the first three years.

Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat whose district includes Reagan Airport, said the aviation-security bill was the third government action this month to help Northern Virginia recover from the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"I am extremely pleased with the outcome," Mr. Moran said.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved funding for projects intended to strengthen the nation's response in emergencies. They included $45 million for emergency equipment for Northern Virginia fire and rescue, $19 million for chemical sensors in Metrorail stations and $20 million for an emergency wireless-communications system for the Washington area.

On Nov. 2, the Bush administration said it would give the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority $25 million to recover from the three-week closure of Reagan Airport, which it manages.

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