Bush to propose aviation security measures Thursday
By John King
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush will propose placing armed federal marshals on virtually all U.S. commercial air flights and significantly boosting the federal role in airport security screening as part of a package of proposed administration airline and airport security measures to be unveiled Thursday, administration and congressional sources tell CNN.
The sources said the administration also will embrace new measures, both short-term and long-term, designed to improve cockpit security. But the White House firmly opposes the idea of letting pilots carry handguns in the cockpit, according to several sources who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity.
President Bush was meeting with senior advisers later Wednesday to review the proposals, and aides stressed there could be some changes to the details of the package. But they said the overall thrust had taken shape, so much so that Bush aides were briefing key lawmakers Wednesday, saying it was the president's desire for Congress to quickly act on the legislation and send it to the White House for his signature by the end of next week.
The president was to unveil his "principles" in a speech to airline workers at Chicago's O' Hare International Airport on Thursday. House Speaker Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and House Minority Leader Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, were scheduled to travel with Bush as a show of bipartisan support for quick congressional action on airline security improvements.
Bush also is facing increased pressure to address the layoffs in the airline and other industries with a package of federal assistance.
Some of the actions can be taken administratively by the Federal Aviation Administration; others require congressional action. The administration proposals will deal with three major areas of the airport and airline security debate:
-- AIRPORT SECURITY SCREENING: The administration does not favor making this a full federal responsibility, the sources said. But "they recognize there needs to be a greater federal role," one lawmaker briefed on the administration's views said.
This lawmaker and other sources said the administration favored federal standards, training and testing for security positions, and a larger federal presence at security checkpoints, especially at major airports.
"Seeing an armed officer with a federal badge as you go through the checkpoint is going to be a familiar sight, if not at every airport, then at most," an administration official involved in the deliberations said.
-- AIR MARSHALS: The administration will call for a broad-based federal air marshal program that offers "substantial if not complete" coverage of commercial flights. The administration already is borrowing agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Naturalization Service and other federal agencies to serve temporarily as air marshals while others are hired and trained for this role.
-- COCKPIT SECURITY: The administration backs installation of stronger, secure cockpit doors. The FAA already has ordered immediate cockpit security improvements, and the administration's proposal envisions additional short-term steps, such as security bars and other access barriers, during the phase-in period for the fortified doors.
In the conversations with key members of Congress, the administration also has signaled a willingness to embrace the use of National Guard troops as a temporary supplement to airport security.
"There is a concern in Congress that there be an obvious, immediate, visible security factor as a reassuring sign to people, and we can go along with that if it can be done in a way that works," a senior administration official said. Some in Congress have been suggesting National Guard troops be used as air marshals.
The FAA has already ordered new measures designed to improve the screening of airline and airport workers who have access to planes, tarmacs, runways, cargo and baggage areas, and congressional aides said legislative steps in this area were likely as well, such as mandatory criminal background checks.
Some in Congress also are debating whether to push a provision requiring airport security checkpoint workers to be American citizens, though it was unclear if such a proposal would have significant support.
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