- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2001

President Bush yesterday cautioned congressional Democrats against putting federal workers in charge of screening passengers and luggage at airports as it would be difficult to discipline or fire them for security lapses.
Mr. Bush strongly endorsed a House bill, modeled after his own proposal, that would put federal workers in charge of private-sector screening personnel. The House is expected to vote this week on the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican.
The president criticized a Senate version passed earlier this month that would go even further in federalizing the work force at airports.
"The Senate bill mandates that all passenger and baggage screeners be federal workers in all circumstances," Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address. "While that bill is well-intended, the best approach will be one that provides flexibility."
Such flexibility, according to the president, can be found in the Young bill, which puts "federal law enforcement at every gate" and subjects private screeners to "tough federal standards on background checks."
He added that the Young bill will "ensure that security managers can move aggressively to discipline or fire employees who fail to live up to the rigorous new standards."
This has emerged as an important provision for Republicans, who fear that civil-service protection will make it almost impossible to dismiss federal workers who allow security breaches at airports. On Friday, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer recalled an incident in which a private screener failed to detect a gun that was smuggled past security.
"That screener was immediately dismissed," he said. "If somebody joins the federal civil service, it's often impossible to take any disciplinary action in a prompt fashion."
Mr. Bush first proposed his airport security package during a visit to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Sept. 27. Since then, the airline industry has voluntarily enacted parts of his package, including the fortification of cockpit doors to stymie would-be hijackers.
Although some Republicans initially expressed concern that a conservative president was trying to partially federalize the work force at airports, Democrats argued Mr. Bush was not going far enough. In response to Democratic criticism, the president in recent days has felt compelled to emphasize his support for an expanded federal role.
"Under the Young bill, the federal government will assume complete control of airport security and screening," he said yesterday. "It also greatly expands the Federal air marshal program, and provides substantial new funding for secure cockpits and other security measures aboard airplanes."
For days, the White House has been warning that Mr. Bush is poised to use his executive authority to enact the equivalent of the Young bill if Congress fails to reach an agreement soon.
"He has broader authority," Mr. Fleischer said. "He hopes he will not have to use it."
Yesterday, the president suggested that time is running out.
"The Young bill is the quickest, most effective way to increase aviation security," he said. "And time is of the essence. I urge Congress to move quickly on this vital legislation, as it did in passing new legislation to fight terrorism."
Mr. Bush was referring to an anti-terrorism bill he signed Friday that gives law-enforcement officials broad new powers to wiretap and detain suspected terrorists and to imprison convicts. Yesterday, he sought to assure Americans that the new measures will not trample on civil rights.
"They reflect a firm resolve to uphold and respect the civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, while dealing swiftly and severely with terrorists," the president said. "Now comes the duty of carrying them out. And I can assure all Americans that these important new statutes will be enforced to the full."


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