Take Security Away From the FAA

When Jane Garvey, FAA Director, told members of Congress that a score or more of advanced CTX bomb detection machines were being warehoused because airports had airlines that don’t want to employ them, Congress should have finally been put on notice that the FAA is both unwilling and unable to provide security for the traveling public. Coupled with Attorney General John Ashcroft’s notice that the leading airport security company, Argenbreit, continues to employ convicted felons to provide security at the airports, these actions are the final blow in a long chain of events that should have by now removed security from the FAA’s duties, an obligation owed to air travelers by Congress.

The FAA and independent analysts have reported the poor state of security at our airports for years. The most basic security precautions still have not been undertaken, even after the unbelievable events of September 11th. Congress, as if in a trance, continues to look to the FAA for a way out as though the FAA itself had no role in the decades of security negligence that has led to this need for a massive overhaul. Despite the recommendations of two presidential panels and numerous credible reports of the likelihood of terrorism, as recently as August of this year the FAA and airline representatives assigned a very low priority to improving airport security.

Let’s look at the facts:

  1. X-raying of all passenger-checked baggage was not to be achieved until 2014, according to FAA goals.
  2. Fingerprinting and criminal background checks for airline employees are only required for personnel hired after December 23, 2000.
  3. Direct oversight of training for airport security personnel will not take effect until this year.
  4. Uniformity of security standards across the United States is not required at all. For all intents and purposes, enforcement of screening requirements is left to self-policing. Airlines, though required to carry out the screening process, can and do delegate it to foreign-owned security guard firms who pay minimum wages to a work force made up of up to 90 percent non-citizens.
  5. We are still not matching passengers with bags; checked bags still fly without owners and owners without bags.
  6. Airport workers still enter sterile areas without going through the same screening currently in place for cabin crews and passengers.
  7. Baggage theft and loss continues at the same pace. Passengers have a better chance of buying their lost bags back over the Internet than having them returned by the airlines.
  8. There is no claim check match at baggage return in most airports .

After so many years of promises to correct the faults which have long characterized security in domestic aviation, Congress may now be presented with its last chance to preserve our air travel system before another calamity renders it bankrupt. Congress and the White House both know that the current system for providing security is an oxymoron.

We must strip the FAA of its security responsibilities immediately. Have the D.O.J. or a Deputy Secretary of D.O.T. assume direct responsibility for aviation security. Remove all security prerogatives for screening and airside security from airport authorities and airlines. Immediately federalize airport police officers under the U.S. Marshall’s Service, the Treasury Department, or the F.B.I. Immediately employ former fully-trained law enforcement officers under direct control of the supervising federal agency or through approved private employers willing to waive all training, assignment, and supervision rights to the federal government.

If the current parties, including the airlines, security firms, and FAA officials, are not guilty of criminal negligence for acts committed on September 11th, the next time they surely will be unless corrections to our aviation security system are implemented immediately. As for Congress, this time shame on Osama Bin Laden and others of his ilk — next time, shame on you.

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