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Lawmakers Should Make Public Safety a Priority When Writing Final Aviation Security Measure

Nov. 9, 2001

Lawmakers Should Make Public Safety a Priority When Writing Final Aviation Security Measure

Public Citizen, ACAP Send Letter to Congress

WASHINGTON, D.C. In crafting a final aviation security measure, lawmakers should take the best provisions from bills passed by the House and Senate, correct obvious defects and reject provisions that weaken security, Public Citizen and the Aviation Consumer Action Project (ACAP) told lawmakers in a letter.

“It has been nearly two months since the worst terrorist attack in history,” said the letter, signed by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook and ACAP Executive Director Paul Hudson. “You must compromise up, not down.”

Security screeners should be federal employees unless the president and the head of the country s aviation security determines that employing private security screeners at certain airports would provide an equivalent or superior level of security. At large international airports, federal employees should be used except on a temporary basis, and only if federal security agents are not available and private workers would provide a high level of security. The letter was sent Thursday to the House and Senate conference members who are hashing out a final bill. All other members of Congress received a copy.

Claybrook and Hudson made other recommendations:

Aviation security workers should be paid much more than the scant $5.50 – $9.50 per hour they receive now. Congress should establish a minimum pay requirement for private contract workers equivalent to the amount paid federal workers, which would be about $25,000 annually.

  • Lawmakers should incorporate the Senate s proposed requirements outlining standards for screeners. These call for screeners to pass a drug test, undergo a criminal background check and have completed certain training requirements, among other requirements. Lawmakers also should add a preference for ex-military and law enforcement or peace officer personnel.
  • An Aviation Security Administration should be created to oversee aviation security, and it should be part of the U.S. Department of Justice. It should not be part of the Department of Transportation because that agency is neither a national security nor primarily a law enforcement agency.
  • Congress should create an Aviation Security Advisory Committee, as proposed by the Senate, which would have representatives from all parties concerned with aviation, including passengers and representatives from the public. It is imperative that the House version not be adopted, because that calls for a committee that would exclude passenger and public representatives, making aviation security the sole province of regulated industry and the government.
  • Lawmakers should require the Bush administration to submit a plan within 30 days to provide airliner cockpit security within 90 days. This is essential to both deter repeat terrorist attacks and restore the confidence of a thoroughly shaken public and anxious flight crews.
  • Both House and Senate bills provide for a new security tax on airline tickets. This money must be dedicated to aviation security and should be supplemented as necessary from the national security budget. Airlines should not be able to access this money for other purposes, because they have already received a $15 billion bailout from the federal government.

In writing the measure, lawmakers should not make exemptions for instrastate flights. This could undermine national aviation security by allowing terrorists to infiltrate the air transportation system and bypass stronger security at major airports.

Finally, lawmakers should not allow airport authorities, private screening companies, the owner and private lease holder of the World Trade Center or Boeing to be held harmless for damages in excess of their liability coverage or to be exempt from punitive damages. Nor should lawmakers criminalize plaintiffs attorneys fees in excess of 20 percent of a recovery. This would deny a level playing field for victim plaintiffs who choose to go to court and essentially would deprive victims of the legal resources to receive just compensation or deter wrongdoing by negligent parties and non-terrorist wrongdoers through the courts.

“We must establish a strong aviation security program to ensure that more people don t needlessly lose their lives to terrorism,” Claybrook said. “Congress is dangerously close to passing a weak and ineffective measure. That would be tragic and criminal.”