Dueling Twins

Airports

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The 'Dueling Twins'

When one realizes that his life is worthless he either commits suicide or travels.

Edward Dahlberg

Point:

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What! Those Federal Employees Off Work Again ?

Time to Federalize Airport Security

James Hall, From the Left

Commercial airliners are the largest and most dangerous weapon in the terrorist arsenal. It behooves us, therefore, to create layers of security that make it difficult if not impossible for terrorists to seize one ever again. Bills recently passed by the House of Representatives and the US Senate deal with the crucial issue of airline security. Both bills approve federal air marshals to ride aboard flights and guard the cockpits from interference. Both bills increase federal scrutiny of the boarding process, a process that under the airlines permitted just about anyone to ride armed. But the bills disagree over whether or not to federalize the 27,000 employees actually screening passengers and baggage on these planes. It seems clear that the bipartisan Senate Bill (passed 100-0) federalizing airport security in major hubs is the better bill of the two.

Federalizing these employees makes sense both constitutionally and as a matter of common sense. As the chief regulator of interstate commerce, the federal government can constitutionally exert a presence at most airports where traffic lands and departs between states or between the US and foreign countries. Federal agents like the USDA agricultural products inspectors, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents and Coast Guardsmen handle comparable responsibilities already. A uniform federal presence at major airports also makes more sense than maintaining different security regulations and standards at each airport. Finally, the prospect of fully loaded airliners diving out of the sky is a national danger, not a state or local problem, making it a matter of national security.

If one needs further persuading, consider the case of the largest private screening company in the US, the British security firm Argenbright Inc. Last year Argenbright was fined a million dollars for employing convicted thieves, prostitutes and other criminals as passenger and baggage screeners and then lying to FAA investigators about their background checks, which are required by law. This year Argenbright has just been indicted again by the Attorney General--for committing the same offense over 100 times at 14 different airports.

Not surprizingly, Argenbright was in charge of security at the airports the four hijacked planes took off from on September 11. Today's screeners are minimum wage employees, turnover averages 125% annually, and the airlines and the security firms they employ--including Argenbright--pinch pennies on their security. Federalizing the force, which would be paid for by a tax on airline tickets calculated at $2.50 per one-way trip, could allow the federal government to buy and employ more efficient, less labor-intensive detection machines and train and educate a permanent, professional force of screeners and security people.

In addition to poorly screening boarding passengers, today's airlines have failed to fully employ baggage inspection machines for personal baggage and mail put on airliners, which might contain either explosives or biological weapons. While these machines can check up to 150 bags or packages an hour, only an average of 350 bags and packages are being checked per day by the airlines per airport. Federalizing these checkpoints again will result in greater security for the air-traveling public as well as those of us who live below the flight lanes.

The House of Representatives' Bill, while mandating federal standards for screening and federal management of private screeners, would not federalize the screening force or pay federal-level wages for screeners. Though it would probably permit raises over the minimum, it is doubtful that private companies would pay enough to make the screener/security job palatable for very long. A federal wage scale and federal benefits, on the other hand, would create a professional job that would attract and retain educated and skilled employees.

There are very few downsides to the federalization of screeners. Uniform standards for checking baggage and persons entering a flight will be maintained. Good pay and benefits will ensure a quality staff and rigorous inspection. Only those who fly pay for the service and at $2.50 per flight the price is right for peace of mind. Because the nature of most flights are interstate or international, the federal government is the logical entity to handle this security, which is important not only for passengers riding planes for but for the nation as a whole.

Security companies like Argenbright are opposed to the Senate bill and are lobbying Congress for the House version. They've had two chances to correct problems and have failed miserably. Why give them another chance? Call your local Congressman and Senator today and urge them to support the Senate Bill's federalization of security employees in our airports--it's our first line of defense against a repeat of September 11.

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Rebuttal:

I do like unions - having been a member and an officer in a union local. A good union might have raised training, pay and benefits enough to make a high-turnover, minimum-wage job the profession it ought to have been, preventing the hijackings of September 11 altogether. But union membership is irrelevant to this argument. The real concern should be who is best able to provide security for interstate flights - private security companies like Argenbright, or federal law enforcement.

It's quite clear that the federal government has the expertise and ability to handle the job, which is comparable to work already done by federal agencies like Customs, the Border Patrol, and the Coast Guard. Who is more likely to command your cooperation and respect, a low-paid private security guard or a federal law enforcement officer? I myself want to be on fights checked by the latter.

Sartre accuses the FAA of incompetence, but ask any insurance actuary what's the safest way to travel and he'll tell you to go by air. Air travel is far safer than highway travel (regulated by state and local governments), which kills 40,000 Americans a year. Most of that safety has been created by the stringent regulations of the FAA, which has been a model for the world. The problems that Sartre blames the FAA for, like fewer direct flights and more air traffic, are better blamed on the airlines themselves and on airline deregulation. It was airlines who paid for cheap airline security and baggage screening and airlines who have blocked most attempts by the FAA to upgrade security.

The federal government can afford the expensive, labor-reducing inspection machines needed to do the job and recruit the professionals to run them. The federal government is best able to track down and identify members of al-Qaeda before they get on the planes. The federal government's experience in checking baggage at Customs and its legal clout and connections make it more effective than Argenbright can ever be. Though it might stick in your ideological craw, Sartre, even you will be more comfortable riding in an airliner checked by federal officers than cheap rent-a-cops.

James Hall, From the Left

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Project: Safe Skies

Counterpoint:

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The Friendly Skies of Uncle Sam

Well, here we go again! Invoking the Interstate Commerce Act as authority to create another incompetent federal agency is like giving candy to the FAA diabetic. Never met a Union I didn't love is the motto of the 'bad seed'. Remember PATCO, Jimmie? That stellar example of collective bargaining that got fined, $34 million, out of existence. Or is your memory confined just to counting sick and personal days in your union contract?

Anyone who goes through the airport nightmare, knows the system is out of control. The FAA is one of the most egregious failures of the public trust. Forget their culpability in cover-up investigation shams, TWA 800 was the exception to the laws of physics, just look at their success record in updating the air traffic computer complex. Before 'we the people', get those vacuum tubes replaced, we will be able to just tell Scotty to 'Beam Me Up'!

A serious problem deserves an adult solution. The Airlines have a history of corporate greed and deficiency in management performance. Anyone who devises a frequent flyer program that changes daily, while hiring stowaways left over from their own overseas flights, deserve bankruptcy. The hub architecture for flights came into existence to centralize, control and to foster efficiency. The idea of direct destination flights became extinct. The traveler is subjected to countless indignities from a process that the union cheerleader will have you believe, improves with more federal government organization.

Sub contracting the task of security to private rent a day laborers, was approved by this same federal FAA management team. We need to work out a plan, based upon intelligence and reward for professional solutions. The pilots are the greatest resource within the entire airline industry. They need to be empowered to be much more than expensive yes men. Innovative reworking in the design of the entire security mechanism needs to include a reliance upon individual initiative of front line personnel. Obviously all baggage needs to be inspected with the latest equipment. But knowing the background of your own employees, will provide more direct results than attempting bureaucratic inflexibility.

National standards are fine when they apply, but effective implementation requires accountable local management. That means authorizing immediate dismissal for deserving conduct. Federal civil service policies, only promote the inept to supervise the incapable.

For those who experience international flight (and I don't mean doing on the lamb), they know the value of strict check in procedure. During good times, it took over an hour to queue through Heathrow. We all are going to suffer through the torture of the joy of travel. Costs will increase because the expenses are real to insure greater safety. Maybe all those plans to enlarge those airport facilities can now be put on hold, since seats are down over 35% by latest count.

Modern airports are an economy all unto themselves. Their local governance must rise to the call to overhaul their procedures. The role for uniformity in performance based upon a heightened resolve can best be accomplished with a total house cleaning in the FAA. I don't know about you, but there is another Jim Hall, from the NTSB, that gets too much face time as a talking head after every accident. The disaster that needs to be investigated is how the bubble gum system still flies to begin with? And while you are at it, explain why all that money in the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, has never been spent on real improvements to the entire industry? Could it be that those fiscally responsible politicians have been diverting all those fees for other unrelated purposes for decades?

Corporate bailouts are an insult. Protection from business risk by a reward out of tragic circumstances is the same as a guarantee for perpetual ineptitude or the regulator.

And you advocate giving them even more control and opportunities to scam the public!

No argument that we will pay more. That is the way of nature. But for once, let's fix the problem with comprehensive reform of the entire quasi government airline partnership, of disgrace. Yes we want professional execution of reasoned procedures, but when and where do you find that standard exhibited with federal guidelines?

When the public address announcements sound off in the terminals, we don't need to hear Joe Hill singing the background tune to 'Have a Nice Day', while 'strike if you don't', is playing backup. Spend the federal effort on arresting the terrorists that are running around free and stop them from entering the country to begin with. We don't need more benefits, but we sure need more results.

James Hall aka SARTRE

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Final Word:

Let's be clear. If the passenger list was publicly posted, finding certain relatives on the flight would induce seeking alternative forms of transportation. To promote flawed choices for crucial needs, is a trait that many families suffer. More federalization of the work force is directly related to cosmetic face lifts, when a systemic overhaul is required.

The notable safety record in commercial travel is more a result of superior design, engineering and talented mechanics, than oversight by government. The airlines are undoubtedly a large part of the problem. So why isn't it self evident that a comprehensive approach to solve the full range of security inadequacies is the only prudent course to undertake? Adding a quick fix that will create more layers of commissars is madness. The ballyhoo for addressing immediate fears, even when dangers are heightened, while ignoring root contradictions of sensible integration of meaningful changes; is the only function of the bureaucrat.

Since the liberal union steward identifies with the disorganized chaos that grows their influence, just how will the public benefit from more of the same defective responses? Real reform is the arch enemy of the bureaucrat and airport security is but the latest feeding ground for this government monster. Argenbright is a failed experiment, but to substitute 'postal' types when FedEx proficiency is the goal, seems to miss the point!

The federal government needs to bring the criminals to justice. And the airline industry needs to revamp its entire philosophy of operation. The public wants reliable service, dependable safety and consistent and uniformed pricing. When did more government design such a system? Real competition will only be achieved when dozens of airlines fly. Southwest Air and Jet Blue follow the tradition of Peoples' Express. Encourage their market share and resist the 'Air America' concept of national travel.

SARTRE is never comfortable traveling with buffoons and often votes with his feet. No wonder, when the passenger sitting next to you could very well be the 'bad seed', himself! Using his model, only federal union personnel will be able to afford the ticket.

James Hall - 'The Right'


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