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Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 2001 / 9 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Consumer Reports

Airline bill needs liftoff -- "FEDERAL doesn't mean quality,'' a House Republican aide said to explain why House Repubs oppose a bill passed unanimously by the Senate that would federalize some 28,000 airport security jobs.

OK. Problem is: Private doesn't mean quality, either.

Consider a federal review of airport security biggie Argenbright Security Inc. The company hired security screeners with criminal records -- folks convicted for burglary, firearms possession and other crimes -- as well as illegal aliens. Last year, Argenbright pleaded guilty to several charges and agreed to pay $1.2 million in fines for falsifying records and conducting inadequate personnel background checks.

Last year, the General Accounting Office presented the findings of an investigation to see if undercover workers using bogus credentials could get into the secured areas of two airports with private security. Bingo. The phony IDs got GAO personnel and their valises -- which could have contained anything -- through security without screening.

An airport's motto should not be: Have gun, will travel.

The other problem is: Federal workers don't guarantee security either. GAO personnel also made it past guards without being screened at FBI headquarters and at the Department of Energy, where federal workers provide security. The workers and their valises were even able to get close to the energy secretary's and FBI director's office suites.

What to do?

First, understand that both systems are flawed, and both have their advantages. Then pass the best bill you can get, pronto.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., believes that the public will only feel secure flying with the federal government providing airport security. Since confidence translates into ticket-buying, that's an important point.

House Republicans cite the success of private airport security companies operating under tough government scrutiny in Europe and Israel. House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young therefore introduced a bill that would make the federal government responsible for airport security, but let the president decide whether to require airport security personnel to be federal workers. President Bush supports it.

Young, however, would enjoy more credibility if the National Journal had not reported that, after Young was called to a vote during a press conference on his bill, he referred reporters to direct their questions to the counsel for the Aviation Security Association, the industry lobby. His bill reeks of Eau de Bad Airline Security Bailout.

At SFO International, spokesman Ron Wilson said he would like to see a rise in worker pay nationwide. Before San Francisco raised wages to start at $10 per hour, Wilson explained, many screeners were working more than one job; they'd come to work bone tired. Higher wages at other airports would improve performance and reduce job turnover.

The House bill doesn't raise pay. And what Wilson didn't like about the Senate bill was that by federalizing security, "You may be putting a lot of people out of work.''

The most important element could be speed. Until the public is confident about flying, the airlines, airports, workers and related industries will suffer. Ditto the nation's economy. The Senate has acted. The House has not. If House Repubs can't muster the votes to maintain a privately contracted workforce, but under beefed-up federal oversight and training -- they should pass the Senate bill, which would require hiring federal workers.

Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., has been pushing for a mostly private workforce, but he'd rather vote to federalize the workforce than pass no bill. He explained, "The goal here is to be safe, not the philosophical position.''

Hope that the aptly named GOP House Whip Tom DeLay is listening.

Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate