Bush signs aviation security bill
By Major Garrett and Kelly Wallace
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Monday signed a long-awaited aviation security bill at Washington's Reagan National Airport.
Under the compromise measure reached last week between congressional negotiators and the White House, workers screening passengers and baggage will become federal employees -- this had been a major sticking point in talks between the Hill and Oval Office.
However, five airports are to participate in a pilot program in which security will be provided by private contractors, to test the effectiveness of that option.
In three years, airports would have the option to decide if they want to continue using federal employees or switch back to private screeners. The airports could use state or local law enforcement to provide security services.
The measure Bush is to sign also calls for stronger cockpit doors on planes and an increased presence of armed federal marshals on flights.
Scheduled to join the president at the northern Virginia airport are Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.
The House approved the compromise bill Friday, hours after the Senate passed the bill on a voice vote.
The agreement came just as the peak holiday season gets under way and more than two months after terrorists used U.S. passenger jets to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon
The measure would make airport security the responsibility of the newly created Transportation Security Administration in the Department of Transportation.
All security screeners would become federal employees in a transition period lasting one year. But they would not be offered the same civil service protections as other federal employees, according to Rep. John Mica, R-Florida.
Security screeners would undergo criminal background checks and would have to be U.S. citizens.
Ken Quinn, general counsel for the Aviation Security Association, said that at Washington's Dulles International Airport, 72 percent of the current screeners are non-U.S. citizens.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates salaries for security personnel would rise to an average of $35,000 for a screener and $52,000 for supervisors.
The new federal security screening services would be paid for by collecting from airlines what they paid for security services prior to September 11 -- which is estimated to be about $700 million -- and by charging passengers $2.50 per departure or connection.
Other provisions of the measure include:
-- A requirement that all checked baggage be screened by explosive detection devices no later than December 31, 2002. Until then, all checked baggage is to be inspected by other means, including X-ray, positive passenger matching or hand checking.
-- A provision that the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System be used to screen all passengers, instead of just those who check in at the ticket counter.
-- A requirement that flight schools conduct background checks on any foreign national who seeks training to operate aircraft over 12,500 pounds. Flight school employees would also be trained to recognize suspicious activities.
The original Senate bill had called for federal employees to handle security screening at the nation's largest airports. The House bill, supported by Bush, called for federal oversight of security screening with the option of using private contractors to do the work.