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Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta Speaks to American Public Transportation Union

Aired October 30, 2001 - 12:46   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: He is expected to tell a group, the American Public Transportation Union, that tighter security in all facets of transportation are needed.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

NORM MINETA, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: Thank you for the warm and generous introduction. When you hear an introduction like that, you wonder where are your kids when you want them to hear something good about you?

(LAUGHTER)

But thank you very, very much, Rod, and thanks to all of you for that very warm welcome.

I'm really pleased and honored to have this opportunity to share some thoughts with you this afternoon, and more importantly I really appreciate your allowing me to be a last minute add-on to your very busy schedule.

First of all, I want to commend all of your organizations for having the foresight to schedule this event about terrorism threats and transportation. Who would have thought that when you scheduled this event that we would have been confronted with the challenges that are now facing all of us?

And without a doubt, America is a fundamentally different place than we knew it on September 11. We have entered into a new era in transportation -- an era in which one of our most cherished freedoms, the freedom of mobility, has been challenged. Overcoming that threat will require all of us to take a fresh and honest look at the business we're in, and I will tell you now this is not business as usual.

We must re-think the basic approach with which we provide the safety and security of everyone traveling on America's transportation systems. President Bush has said we are in a war. Vice President Cheney has said that this may be the first war in our nation's history where the number of casualties on the home front will exceed those on the battle front. That makes our communities the front line of this war, and that means the transportation systems that all of you represent here today are at risk.

Now, these systems are at risk of being targets of terrorists. They are also at risk of being used as weapons against Americans -- weapon delivery systems that are used to destroy or damage our communities. Therefore, it requires all of us who are in charge of managing these systems to work around the clock to protect them from these attacks. And so I want to talk to you about one of those systems that must show improvement right away.

Aviation I understand is not on your agenda today, but I know many of you are involved in your communities' airports. You probably got here by flying, and you are keenly interested in the security of our aviation system. So I want to outline with you some of the steps that we are taking at the Department of Transportation to make these improvements.

Today America has an airline-based security system, and unfortunately, it is a system where deficiencies exist. Someone may undergo strict screening in Kansas City, while someone else can slip a pistol by the screeners in New Orleans, and this is intolerable.

Now, we have required airports and airlines to implement new security measures since the 11th of September and to correct any failures in the application of these measures. Nevertheless, an unacceptable number of deficiencies continue to occur. The result is a growing lack of confidence and increasing criticism of the actions that are being taken by the Federal Aviation Administration, and I want to reverse that trend. We must make sure that the implementation of current security measures is done in an effective and consistent manner. And when we find ineffective or inadequate implementation of security measures, we must crack down on those failures.

This morning I met with special agents of the FAA from around the country.

I told them that I want them to crackdown on security screening failures that are occurring across the country. I want them to take decisive action in making sure that the security measures that we have implemented since the 11th of September are carried out, regardless of who is in charge of managing the system.

Now let me be specific. If secure areas in airports have been compromised, then we will take corrective actions to recheck passengers, including re-screening passengers. If a secure area is breached, FAA agents will empty the concourse, re-screen passengers, and if necessary hold flights. If improper screening of carry-on luggage is occurring, we will hold flights and re-screen passengers or luggage. And if we see untrained screeners, FAA agents will stop the operation.

I want consistent accountability. I want confidence restored in the screening system. And the way to accomplish that under the current system is to show that when people fail to meet the current standards, there is going to be a sting. Every time the system is not followed, it breaks down the confidence of the traveling public and it reduces the confidence that they have in the federal government. Now, I have also asked the Department of Transportation and its inspector general department to help provide special agents to supplement the over 500 agents from the FAA to inspect the various airports around the country. I've also asked the FAA Administrator Jane Garvey to investigate hiring additional agents and to also reassign agents from other departments to assist in this effort.

In addition, Congress now has the opportunity to empower the federal government to take command of the security system of the aviation system, and they can do that by passing legislation that is before the, H.R. 3150, which will provide direct government control of security screening at the nation's airports, and that would in turn maximize the safety and security of American aviation and American travelers.

Now, while aviation is critical, it is not the only transportation asset in the United States. Your conference is focusing on surface transportation, and I want to discuss how we must work to also protect the critical elements of our railways, highways, bridges, transit systems, pipelines and waterways.

Last month I created the National Infrastructure Security Committee, NISC, at the Department of Transportation to focus on intermodal transportation security issues in our new threat environment. And you have heard the attorney general in the last day talking about the new heightened security alert that we should all be attuned to.

So what we have established within the department are direct action groups, or DAGs, that bring in key industry leaders, labor representatives and other stakeholders to provide input to the Department of Transportation on maritime, pipeline and hazardous materials issues. Together, we have identified high-risk, high-value consequent transportation assets and current protection strategies.

We are also developing a set of national standards that will address a prudent level of protection for our most critical transportation assets, and we are addressing strategic gaps between the current and the desired level of protection for the most critical of these assets.

Now, this is an unprecedented effort on the part of the Department of Transportation, on the part of industry and on the part of labor and others to work together to identify best practices across all modes that should be incorporated into contingency response plans, similar to what we see in the aviation community through what they call the aviation security contingency plan.

Now, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, we have found ourselves revisiting very important issues that certainly had our attention prior to that date, but to which we are now a captive audience. And these include the need for improved information sharing and dissemination of threat information between government and industry. They include the need for protections and incentives that encourage private sector entities to voluntarily work with government and to cooperate among themselves knowing their proprietary information is being protected. And they include the obvious need for security-related legislative changes.

Now, the new Office of Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Council will coordinate federal, state and local efforts to strengthen protections against terrorist attacks here in the United States, and the Department of Transportation has a very important role to play in all efforts at increasing homeland security.

Now, to that end, legislation has been introduced as the Secure Transportation for America Act by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Subcommittee on Aviation, which would establish a new Transportation Security Administration within the Department of Transportation.

Now, this entity would be responsible for security for all modes of transportation, and we are waiting to see how this will play out and are working on all the issues involved with the potential for a new DOT operating administration.

There is other pending legislation on the Hill in which the Department of Transportation may play a central security role. The Rail Security Act of 2001 introduced in the Senate two weeks ago by Senators McCain and Hollings provides for improvement of rail safety and security to include expanding railroad police authority to any rail carrier, and for assessing security risks associated with rail transportation. It also provides a review for existing DOT rail regulations for the purpose of identifying areas in which those regulations need to be revised to improve rail safety and rail security. The legislation raises a heightened awareness for the need for collective action, and facilitates the development of coordinated interagency and public-private approaches to port security.

Now we also provide for vulnerability assessments for the 50 most strategically and economically important U.S. ports that also happen to be where 90 percent of the cargo is shipped. The legislation provides additional authority to prescribe regulations to protect the public from crime and terrorism. It provides an accreditation of foreign seaports. It provides loan guarantees for port security infrastructure improvements, and provides court-related crime data collection and improved customs reporting procedures. Of course again, the Department of Transportation is working with the Congress to ensure that this legislation captures what is needed to ensure that the United States can guard itself against terrorism in the maritime area.

We also need to make sure that security for other transportation modes matches up with port security. It would make no sense to impose a security system for ports if other modes represented a security gap. Other transportation security measures include improving transit security, passenger rail security, as well as that of our ports and other maritime facilities. For example in the hazardous materials area, on October 12 I sent legislation to Congress calling for tough actions to address the serious problem of undeclared or hidden shipments of hazardous materials.

The safety and security challenge is huge, but know that we are up to the challenge, and we will meet it. All of us are committed to ensuring the safety and security of our nation's transportation systems to protect the outstanding working men and women who operate and service them, and of course the passengers who rely on them. And as we move forward from September 11, we must increase our vigilance and we must take new steps to move people and goods safely and efficiently, recognizing that the nature of the threats has changed.

Travelers will indeed see increased security measures at our airports, train stations, and other key sites. There will be higher levels of surveillance and more stringent searches. The traveling public may experience some inconveniences, but we must do what is prudent in order to protect our citizens and our transport workers with safety and security as our highest priority.

The public, however, must also understand the need for patience, and that patience is the new form of patriotism.

The organizations that you represent are the engines that drive this economy, and we must ensure that our transportation system will never be used as engines of destruction. I am confident that we will bounce back from the September 11 tragedies. We are in this for the long haul and we are in this together.

I know that it is your goal and I know that the goal of the Department of Transportation and this administration are equal to the goals that you have. And working together, I know that we will prevail.

In closing, let me say that the efforts of each and every one of you will be critical in the days ahead as we work to restore full faith and confidence in our transportation system. And let not our enemies doubt our resolve.

Forty years ago, President Kennedy said that America will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend and oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. A few weeks ago President George W. Bush drew a line in the sand. He said, Are you with us or are you against us? He said we will not waver, we will not tire, we will not falter or fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.

And so with your dedication, with your commitment and with your professionalism, we have the skills and the vision that America needs to restore confidence in our nation's transportation system. We will not falter. We will not fail.

So again, thank you very, very much for all the work that you do day in and day out, and I really look forward to working with all of you to make sure that we do not falter and that we will not fail.

Thank you very, very much.

BROWN: Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta saying, even now, after September 11th, a number of deficiencies in the air traffic control system, in the baggage screening system are unacceptable, warning airlines if improper screening of carry-on baggage is occurring, they will hold flights, rescreen packages, empty concourses if security is breached.

"I want consistent accountability," he said. I want to restore confidence in the screening system. The battle continues over whether those will be federal employees doing the screening or simply federal oversight. That's something the House has to deal with and has not dealt with yet. It has become an enormous political issue, perhaps the biggest single political issue to face the Congress and the president since September 11th -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Aaron. I remember before September 11th, running the department of Transportation was probably considered one of the more dull positions in the president's cabinet. It is now front and center in the war against terrorism, as you can tell by the content of Secretary Mineta's remarks.

Joining me now are correspondent Kathleen Koch to talk a little bit more about this.

Kathleen, some of this sounded as if he was saying something new, but you and I were just talking. He is really emphasizing what is in place, is that not right.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Judy.

What is new here is this get-tough attitude, that basically Secretary Mineta was putting the airlines on notice. Obviously, the Bush administration and the Department of Transportation wants to make Americans feel comfortable about flying again. They are equally as disturbed as the flying public is. Every time they here these reports about a weapon slipped through here. On a Southwest airplane last week, a Dillinger got on to an aircraft. A passenger himself admitted, I didn't realize I had this. He turned it over to the flight attendant. Reports like that are very disturbing. So what Secretary Mineta is saying, we will not tolerate this.

Now as the law is currently in this procedure, is currently they should not be tolerating this. Right now, there is some 800 FAA security inspectors in airports around the country, and that's their job now, to make sure if someone slips through, you shut down the concourse, you empty it, you empty the plane. So Mineta is emphasizing this. But this not something that they shouldn't be doing already.

WOODRUFF: But you still have situations which, presumably, are out of their control, where this American Airlines flight yesterday landed at Dulles Airport here near Washington, just because of a note on someone's tray, that they pulled down, that said, evidently, it's been reported, "There's a bomb on this plane." That's a kind of thing -- who knows how they could screen for something like that, unless they literally go through the plane and look at everything.

KOCH: And that, Judy, in a way goes to one of the existing concerns, that the Department of Transportation is trying to get to, and that's the screening of luggage in the belly of a plane, while we're very carefully screening what carrying on to the aircraft, and limiting the number of bags now that are carried on just one. Most of the baggage that is checked is not (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

When you find a note like this, and especially in light of the attorney general's warning yesterday, Attorney General Ashcroft, everyone was very on edge and very cautious, so that you're going to see them taking these steps, taking these additional precautions, because, at this point, they can't be completely certain, and certainly, when it comes to that checked baggage.

WOODRUFF: And I think Mineta's word ring in our ears, at least some of them. He said when people fail to meet the current requirements, it is going to sting.

And we haven't heard him speak in those pretty stark terms.

All right, Kathleen Koch, thanks very much.

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