- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2001

The House passed the GOP version of the air travel security bill and rejected the Democratic alternative, which would have created a new army of nearly 30,000 federal bureacrats to handle baggage screening at America's airports. The GOP-authored legislation shares much in common with the Democratic plan passed in the Senate some three weeks ago, including tougher training and standards for baggage screeners and other security personnel and a requirement that all luggage be screened by an X-ray machine. All are good moves. But the major point of departure between the Senate and House legislation is the matter of federalizing ("nationalizing" is the more honest term) the nation's baggage screeners.
Most Democrats and a few Republicans including Arizona Sen. John McCain, who co-authored the Senate legislation seem to believe that only federal employees can assure the safety and security of America's airports. Mr. McCain, for example, mocked Virginia Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican who initially favored the Democratic legislation but switched sides to join the Republican majority that passed the House bill. "I hope that Congressman Davis, who represents thousands and thousands of federal employees, would recognize that at least many of his constituents believe that federal employees could do a pretty good job, as they do in other sectors of government service," Mr. McCain said.
Of course, "good enough for government work" is not exactly a confidence-inspiring motto. And the fact is that, contrary to Democratic intimations, their proposed federalization of the baggage-screening work force would not mean that we'd have some 30,000 new top-flight law-enforcement officials watching out for us. Rather, the proposal would simply put the federal government in charge of the work force. The distinction is important.
As President Bush and the House Republicans argued, the critical thing is improving the quality of the baggage screeners and holding their work to a much higher standard. This can certainly be accomplished without erecting yet another massive federal edifice one that would very likely grow into an ossified fiefdom difficult to reform and impossible to get rid of. The House legislation, by giving the president oversight with flexibility, puts in place everything that's needed to improve the quality and performance of the workers who handle baggage at America's airports without succumbing to the bum-rush of nationalization that so many perfervid lawmakers seem determined to enact. Now the Senate and House bills go head-to-head over the issue before final legislation is sent to Mr. Bush for his signature. Here's hoping cooler (and wiser) heads ultimately prevail.


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