Airline security: Congress passes compromise bill
The House approved a compromise aviation security bill by a vote of 410-9 Friday, hours after the Senate passed the bill on a voice vote. It now goes to the president, who has praised the bill and is expected to sign it Monday. Key senators and House members negotiating the bill reached a compromise Thursday. The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the aviation security package by a 286-139 vote November 1. It differed from a comparable bill that the U.S. Senate passed 100-0 on October 11.
The agreement, which would make all airport security screeners federal employees, was an attempt to bridge the gap between two competing bills that passed the House and the Senate. The earlier Senate bill called for federal employees to handle security screening at the nation's large airports. The House bill, supported by President Bush, called for federal oversight of security screening with the option of using private contractors to do the work.
Under the compromise bill, airports would have the option to switch back to private screeners after three years.
Bush praised the agreement as one that "puts the federal government in charge of aviation security, making airline travel safer for the American people."
The new federal security-screening services would be funded by collecting from airlines what they paid for security services prior to September 11 -- estimated to be about $700 million -- and by charging passengers $2.50 per departure or connection, up to a maximum of $5.
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.
According to a summary of the agreement issued by Democratic staff of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, airport security would be placed under the jurisdiction of a 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. They would be able to unionize, but not strike, Mica said.
After three years, airports would have the option to decide if they want to continue using federal security-screening employees. They could switch back to private screeners working under contract or state or local law enforcement.
All security screeners would undergo criminal background checks and would have to be U.S. citizens.
The measure passed by the Senate also says that five airports in the United States would participate in a pilot program in which security would be provided by private contractors.
Other provisions of the bill include:
-- A requirement that all checked baggage be screened by explosive detection devices by December 31, 2002. Until then, all checked baggage 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 instruction in the operation of aircraft over 12,500 pounds. Flight school employees would also be trained to recognize suspicious activities.
Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead says there are "still alarming lapses of security" at the nation's airports. Will the new measures put in place by the aviation security bill be enough to make Americans feel safe to fly?
George W. Bush: The president intensified his personal lobbying for passage of the House bill, meeting with GOP lawmakers and making calls into the final hours before the November 1 vote.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: The top GOP member on the Senate Transportation Committee was a key sponsor of the legislation
Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-South Carolina: Another key sponsor of the legislation was the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Aviation Security Association: The association representing airport security screening companies is disappointed in the legislation, according to Ken Quinn, general counsel for the Aviation Security Association. Quinn supports the European model for aviation security, in which private companies are under federal oversight.
With the holiday season approaching and Americans still shying away from flying because of post-September 11 security concerns, President Bush had urged Congress to work day and night to give him an aviation security bill.
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