Tuesday, September 9, 2003


Tens of thousands of federal airport screeners. Bulletproof cockpit doors. Closer scrutiny of ships and cargo.

There have been many improvements to transportation security since the September 11 terror attacks but gaps remain, lawmakers said yesterday. They cited security loopholes at the nation’s ports and the threat that a shoulder-fired missile could hit an airliner.

“Transportation security is at its highest level ever, particularly aviation security,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which heard from the Bush administration’s top transportation-security officials. “However, we need to remain vigilant across all modes of transportation.”

Two months after the 2001 attacks, Congress created the Transportation Security Administration to protect aviation, shipping and transit. The new agency was given dozens of deadlines to meet, mostly dealing with air travel.

Many of those deadlines were met, including hiring passenger and baggage screeners, checking all bags for explosives and requiring background checks for airport workers.

But Peter Guerrero, director of physical infrastructure issues for the General Accounting Office, said more needs to be done.

Mr. Guerrero, whose agency is the investigative arm for Congress, testified that it could cost hundreds of billions of dollars to secure the country’s entire transportation network, which includes 3.9 million miles of roads, 600,000 bridges, 361 ports and more than 5,000 public-use airports.

“The magnitude of the problem here is almost beyond comprehension,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat.

Mr. Guerrero said more federal money is needed to protect the transportation system, and federal agencies need to better coordinate their efforts to eliminate duplication.

A key concern is that terrorists will use shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down an airliner. Though patrols of airport perimeters have increased, airport officials acknowledge planes could be vulnerable to such an attack.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, wants to equip all 6,800 commercial planes in the U.S. fleet with some form of antimissile device at an estimated cost of $10 billion.

As part of a federal study ordered by Congress in April, the Homeland Security Department asked a number of high-tech companies for proposals on developing a prototype. The department asked eight of those that responded for more information and still is awaiting their response.

Mrs. Boxer said the administration is not acting fast enough.

“It is unbelievable to me the pace at which we’re moving,” Mrs. Boxer said.

Transportation Security Administration chief James Loy said the administration has helped fund projects to make airport perimeters more secure, such as fences and access-control systems.

Mr. Guerrero also pointed out that only a small amount of 12.5 million tons of cargo is inspected before it is shipped by air every year.

Adm. Loy said the agency is working on a more thorough cargo-screening plan. Adm. Loy also said an airline passenger-prescreening program is being developed to measure the risk of every passenger who boards a flight in the United States.

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