- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta yesterday pledged a crackdown by federal agents to establish "zero tolerance" for aviation-security lapses.
Flights will be delayed and passengers rechecked if the proper procedures are not followed, he told state and local transportation officials.
Mr. Mineta announced his get-tough policy while House Democrats and Republicans tried to drum up support for their different aviation-security bills before a vote scheduled for tomorrow.
The vote was originally scheduled for today but was pushed back a day because of the funeral of Gerald Solomon, former chairman of the House Rules Committee, in upstate New York. The House leadership wants to ensure as many congressmen as possible are present for the vote because it is expected to be close.
"An unacceptable level of deficiencies continue to occur," Mr. Mineta said. "I want confidence restored in the screening system. When people fail to meet the standards, there's going to be a stink."
He mentioned an incident last week when a man carried a loaded handgun on a Southwest Airlines flight in New Orleans as an example of the security lapses. The man turned the gun over to a flight attendant when he realized his own oversight and was not arrested.
Mr. Mineta urged Congress to pass a Republican bill that would use screeners and other security agents from private firms but include stricter government regulation. The regulations would include more stringent background checks of employees, more training and a requirement of higher wages.
Currently, airlines pay for security, which they contract out to private firms. The firms have been criticized for lax training, poor wages and high turnover for their personnel, particularly the screeners who check baggage and passengers before they enter airplanes.
The Democrats favor a bill that would turn all 28,000 aviation-security personnel into federal employees.
President Bush prefers the Republican proposal but has hinted he would not veto a bill that uses federal employees.
The Republican bill was sponsored by Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. At a press conference yesterday, he said, "Locking in a system that prohibits the use of any private contract workers guarantees failure and insecurity."
Mr. Young, an Alaska Republican, advocates following a method pioneered in European airports that maintains strict government oversight of private-security firms.
"They do this because many of them have found that using only government workers did not work as well as their current federal-private system works today," he said.
Federal employees are harder to fire for poor job performance, which would result in substandard aviation security, he said.
Democrats said good management and training of a federal work force would avoid security lapses.
"The American people, however, strongly support dramatic change on this issue," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat. "They don't believe air security should solely depend on the lowest bidder."
A federal work force would give aviation-security personnel greater law-enforcement powers, he said.
"Our bill puts federal law enforcement officers highly trained, professional agents at checkpoints in all airports," Mr. Gephardt said.
The House Democrats modeled their bill on an identical bill the Senate passed unanimously Oct. 11.
The Transportation Department, meanwhile, is considering a plan to allow passengers who volunteer for background checks to avoid long lines while waiting to be searched at airport-security checkpoints. The plan depends on the ability to identify passengers quickly, such as through computerized fingerprint checks or retinal scans. Airlines and airports prefer use of "smart cards" that passengers would show at the checkpoints.
The plan responds to complaints by airlines that tougher security procedures since the attack on America are inconveniencing their customers and hurting business.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide