- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 20, 2001

President Bush yesterday federalized virtually the entire security work force at the nation's airports, abandoning his fight to use private contractors who would be easier to discipline or fire for security lapses.
"Today, we take permanent and aggressive steps to improve the security of our airways," Mr. Bush said during a bill-signing ceremony at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
"The events of September the 11th were a call to action, and the Congress has now responded," he added. "The law I will sign should give all Americans greater confidence when they fly."
But the president initially opposed the legislation's centerpiece, which will make unionized federal workers of all 28,000 passenger and baggage screeners within a year. Mr. Bush wanted the federal role limited to the supervision of the screeners, but Democrats insisted on a total federal takeover.
"We have our political differences, but we're united to defend our country, and we're united to protect our people," Mr. Bush said. "For our airways, there is one supreme priority: security."
Facing mounting public pressure to increase aviation security, Republicans agreed to a bill they called a compromise because it exempts a handful of airports and allows the rest to switch back to private contractors after three years. But with few airports expected to reverse the federalization of the work force, this stipulation was widely viewed as a fig leaf for retreating Republicans.
The legislation also created a new agency under the Transportation Department to oversee all airport security matters.
"We are preparing for a swift transition," said Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.
The first phase of that transition will involve staffing airport security points with federal managers, the precursors to a full federal work force. There will also be criminal background checks conducted on 750,000 airport employees.
Mr. Bush insisted there will be a way to get rid of any goldbrickers.
"The new security force will be well trained, made up of U.S. citizens," he said. "And if any of its members do not perform, the new undersecretary will have full authority to discipline or remove them."
By mid-January, airlines will start charging passengers an extra $2.50 per flight to help pay for massive increases in security costs. In some cases the charge will be $5.
During that same period, airports must begin screening checked baggage with whatever means available, including hand inspections and X-ray machines. By 2002, the airports will use machines that can detect explosives.
The federal government will also deploy more undercover air marshals. The National Guard will send more troops to guard airports, especially during the holiday travel season. The FBI will beef up its cross-checks of passengers.
While more passengers will be subjected to searches, others will eventually be able to earn "trusted passenger" status that will expedite the screening process.
With many Americans already growing weary of being repeatedly searched before routine flights for business or pleasure, it remains unclear whether the stricter security standards will help or hurt ticket sales. But Mr. Bush made clear that safety is of paramount importance.
"Security comes first," he said. "The federal government will set high standards, and we will enforce them. These have been difficult days for Americans who fly and for American aviation."
Mr. Bush emphasized that even before yesterday's enactment of an aviation security bill, the airlines and federal government were taking steps to thwart future terrorist hijackings.
"Since September the 11th, the federal government has taken action to raise safety standards," he said. "We've made funds available to the aviation industry to fortify cockpits.
"More federal air marshals now ride on our air planes," he added. "The Department of Transportation instituted a zero-tolerance crackdown on security breaches."

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