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"Key Senators Push Aviation Security Package"

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Key Senators Push Aviation Security Package

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of U.S. senators pushed an
aviation security proposal on Tuesday that would make screeners of
airport baggage and passengers at the top 130 U.S. airports federal

The bipartisan plan, which runs counter to a plan proposed by the White
House last week, would also assign a ticket charge of between $1.50 and
$2.50 to cover the estimated $1.2 billion it would cost to federalize
roughly 14,000 workers. 

``Americans need to be assured that they can board an airliner with a
sense of security,'' Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said at a
Capitol Hill news conference with other proponents of the plan. 

``We all know the present situation is not acceptable,'' the ranking
Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee said of screening
operations, low-wage jobs that offer limited training. These firms are
also plagued by high turnover. 

Screeners have come under enormous pressure since the Sept. 11
hijackings and attacks on New York and Washington although no law
enforcement finding has blamed a security lapse at screening checkpoints
for the tragedies. 


Nevertheless, government and congressional efforts to boost aviation
security see screening as a much maligned, highly visible area of air
travel that needs immediate attention in order to boost faith in the
safety of air travel. 

``I don't believe that the American people will have the sense of
confidence they need unless they know the individuals responsible for
airport security in a large sense are federal employees and hopefully

McCain wants the screeners to be placed under the Justice Department. 

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the screening system
needs to have uniform federal standards carried out by federal workers. 

``If you have low-bid contracts that are still maintained by the private
sector, you will always have that that economic pressure that ratchets
down the level of accountability and security,'' Kerry said. 

The Senate proposal on screeners would be wrapped into a larger package
of aviation security proposals that include stronger cockpit doors, more
air marshals on planes, and stepped up ground security at airports. 

Separately, AMR Corp.'s American Airlines said on Tuesday it would
immediately begin reinforcing cockpit doors on its entire fleet of
aircraft and would complete the installation within 30 days. 

American said it would use bars to lock out intruders and had received
approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to proceed with the

Strengthening cockpit doors was a key recommendation of a security task
force that reported to Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. 


President Bush has proposed putting the government in charge of
screening functions, including purchasing and maintaining all equipment.

The new security would be performed by a combination of federal and
non-federal workers with federal uniformed personnel managing all
operations and maintaining a visible presence at all commercial

There are an estimated 18,000 screeners at 450 U.S. airports. 

Among other things, the government would establish new security
standards, supervise passenger and baggage security, perform background
checks and test screeners and other security personnel. 

The House of Representatives, which is working on separate aviation
security legislation, continues to negotiate the screening provisions
with Democrats. 

But House Republican leader Dick Armey of Texas said on Tuesday that he
believed the White House proposal on screening functions was ``the
correct position.'' 

McCain said Senate proponents of a much deeper role for airport
screeners were willing to negotiate with the House and the Bush

Ernest Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Senate
Commerce Committee, said the White House appeared flexible on the
screening issue but had yet to move off its initial position. 

Both chambers hoped to have security packages ready for consideration by
this week.

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