Is air travel a national security matter? After the tragic events of Sept. 11, government officials have made air travel security a most prominent issue. After closing airlines for days, in some cases weeks, and attempting to improve the current status of air travel security, the federalization of airport screening personnel and procedures is the next logical step in improving air travel security. The events of Sept. 11 prove that air travel is, and should be, a national security matter.
The current bill (co-authored by Senators Ernest Hollings and John McCain) federalizing the job of passenger and baggage screening at major airports and requiring all suitcases and carry-on bags be examined, passed through the Senate in a unanimous 100-0 vote. But this legislation faces fierce resistance in the House of Representatives. The bill calls for the creation of a new Justice Department workforce of 28,000 people to screen passengers and check luggage and carry-on bags at 142 major airports. At smaller airports, the government could use either the new workers or, at federal expense, state and local law enforcement officers, who would undergo the same training as the federal screeners.
This is a logical step in giving some protection to the travelling public. The bill also is intended to renew consumer confidence in air travel. It is surprising that Republican congressmen oppose the bill, seeing that this bill is an attempt to restore confidence in flying and help an already slowing economy.
Currently, airlines hire the people who check for weapons, bombs or other dangerous materials among passengers during boarding procedures. These are private contractors who handle this task. The people the security contractors hire are neither the best trained nor the most skilled workers available. The federalization of this task would mean that the federal government trains the people they hire, making sure they are skilled to do the job. Republicans seem to be “cozying up” to the private sector once again, which has been lobbying to stay in the game of airport security.
Under a federalized system, these airport security workers could be fired and suspended by the Justice Department more easily, and regardless of civil service laws, would not be permitted to strike. This is necessary since airport security is such an important matter. Another portion of the bill states that airport workers with access to restricted areas would undergo background checks.
All of these measures are logical steps to making our airports and air travel in general safer for the general public. Federalizing this air travel security also serves to renew public faith in the air travel industry.
-The writer, a junior majoring in communication, is president of the GW College Democrats.