- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Bush administration wants to begin testing in June of a program that would enable travelers whose background the government already has checked to avoid lengthy security inspections at airports, a federal official said yesterday.

The registered-traveler program would allow people to pay a fee and submit to government background checks.

If the travelers are not found to be potential threats, they would avoid being randomly selected for the follow-up screening that some travelers face at checkpoints where carry-on bags pass through metal detectors.

David Stone, acting chief of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), said the goal is to move law-abiding frequent travelers more quickly to their planes and permit screeners to focus more on people about whom the government has less information.

“TSA believes in this,” Mr. Stone told the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation. “It’s a high priority.”

Mr. Stone said testing would last 90 days. Among the airports being considered are Boston’s Logan International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tenn., and Palm Beach International Airport in Florida.

James May, president of the Air Transport Association, said he was “surprised but pleased” by Mr. Stone’s announcement.

“We’ve been pushing and pushing and pushing,” said Mr. May, whose organization represents major U.S. airlines.

Mr. May testified that the government should develop the program before it puts in place computerized passenger screening that would use personal information to rank all air travelers based on their threat level.

But Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, said he was not sure people would embrace the registered-traveler program because of privacy concerns.

“We are, as an organization, very much in favor of it,” Mr. Mitchell said. “But I’m not sure there are a lot of business travelers willing to pay” to turn over their information.

The fee for the program was not immediately known.

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