|SECURING THE SKIES|
November 14, 2001
| KWAME HOLMAN: Seattle's
Sea-Tac Airport closed down for two hours yesterday because of a security
breach. That's become a growing problem even in today's tightly- controlled
air travel environment. A food service worker inadvertently bypassed a
checkpoint, and the resulting security scramble delayed 7,000 passengers
and 50 flights. Still, these passengers' reactions reflect a prevailing
PASSENGER: I'd rather be safe than have something happen.
PASSENGER: And for anything else I wouldn't wait this long.
PASSENGER: But if there's a security breach, I'm fine with waiting.
KWAME HOLMAN: But like those passengers yesterday, sweeping new measures to codify and improve air security remain in a holding pattern in congress. This morning, the inspector general of the federal Transportation Department testified before a Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Kenneth Mead said there have been 90 security lapses, like the one at Seattle's airport, since the department imposed a zero-tolerance policy on such breaches last month.
KENNETH MEAD: Our office and the FAA have found instances where the air carriers were not continuously using explosion detection systems to check baggage. Staff at screening points were frequently not identifying dangerous items in carry-on baggage, and airlines were not randomly screening passengers before boarding aircraft. These are instances-- these are not the general rule-- but these are instances and we need to do away with those instances.
KWAME HOLMAN: Both the House and Senate passed legislation aimed at helping correct many of those problems. But the Senate voted unanimously to make airport security screeners federal employees. The bill passed by the House would give the President the option of letting them remain employees of private security companies. The on-going impasse over screeners prevents the entire legislation from moving, and brought on this exchange between Georgia Senator, Max Cleland, and FAA Administrator, Jane Garvey.
SEN. MAX W. CLELAND: I have this powerful sense that we are sitting here fiddling, while Rome is burning and while the airline industry is crashing and burning. Over the last two months, five domestic airline, airliners crashed and burned, killing all people on board. Now, do you not or do you support the Senate bill, which we passed 100 to nothing?
JANE GARVEY: I know you did, Senator. What I do support is strong federal management, strong federal control, and I certainly support passing it as quickly as we possibly can.
SEN. MAX W. CLELAND: Mr. Mead, do you or do you not support the Senate bill passed 100 to nothing by this Senate?
KENNETH MEAD: I don't want to take a position on this federalization screeners, that's above my pay grade. I would just say that categorically, whatever you do, you need to have, in our judgment, in my judgment; you need to have a law enforcement presence at every screening station, at every airport in the United States. That law enforcement presence, that person ought to be a federal employee. I don't think you need to have every screener be a policeman. If you want to make them all federal employees or contractor people, I just think you need to have very powerful standards, which I've tried to make in my testimony today. I'm not going to go out and substitute my judgment for yours.
KWAME HOLMAN: A group of House and Senate negotiators continues to wrestle with whether airport screeners should be federal or private employees. At a meeting yesterday, Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison proposed melding the two approaches.
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: I provide for all airports with more than 7.5 million enplanements during calendar year 2000-- which would be the 31 busiest airports-- to be all federal employees. That would mean 494 million out of 709 -- roughly five-sevenths of all people flying -- would be in all-federal airports. But airports, the vast majority would have total flexibility. So 388 of the 419 airports in America, the administrator of the Transportation Administration would have total flexibility.
KWAME HOLMAN: The conferees were to continue meeting today behind closed doors. House and Senate leaders are determined to present an airport security bill to the President before Americans begin flying for Thanksgiving next week.