Three Recent FAA Aviation Security Regulations Failed to Adequately Protect Public, Report Finds

Oct. 3, 2001

Three Recent FAA Aviation Security Regulations Failed to Adequately Protect Public, Report Finds

Agency Bows to Industry to Water Down Critical Security Improvements; Report Suggests Creation of an Independent Aviation Law Enforcement Agency

WASHINGTON, D.C. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should not be permitted to oversee airline and airport security because the agency bows repeatedly to airline industry pressure and has a history of diluting or delaying security-boosting rules after industry complaints,?a Public Citizen report shows.

The analysis of three recent proposed and final security regulations illustrates how the industry with the FAA s help has successfully staved off even basic security measures, such as mandatory criminal background checks of all airport and airline security personnel.

In each case, the industry claimed that the rules would be costly and time-consuming. One airline even complained of increased photocopying costs. And the FAA rejected what it acknowledged was the most effective baggage security proposal because it would cost more than the alternatives.

“The FAA has been commandeered by the very industry it is supposed to regulate and as a consequence, aviation security has become dangerously lax,” said Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen president. “Millions of people fly daily and rely on airlines and the FAA s oversight of those airlines to keep them safe. But the system is not working, and we have seen the deadly consequences. The Congress must change the system now.”

The report suggests that an aviation law enforcement agency should be created that is either independent of the Department of Transportation and the FAA or is housed at the Department of Justice. Unlike the FAA, this new agency could be devoted exclusively to assessing and addressing aviation security threats and coordinating with other law enforcement agencies.

Public Citizen also found that the airline industry has hired as lobbyists a squadron of former members of Congress, FAA and U.S. Department of Transportation top brass, congressional aides, and White House and government agency staffers. The top nine airlines and their trade association, the Air Transport Association (ATA), spent $62.9 million lobbying the FAA, the executive branch and Congress from 1997-2000 (when the federal government was working to convert recent security recommendations to mandatory safety regulations). In 2000 alone, the industry employed 210 lobbyists, including 108 who previously worked for the federal government. To further bolster its influence, the industry contributed $10.9 million to federal election campaigns in 1997-2000.

Public Citizen s report is based on an extensive investigation of the FAA rulemaking process and a careful examination of the docket for three proposed rules recommended by the White House task force on aviation security appointed in 1996 and known as the Gore Commission, which was created after the TWA 800 crash. The report exposes the following about the industry s and FAA s roles in delaying and diluting security improvements:

  • The Gore Commission recommended reasonable, affordable improvements, but the FAA has significantly diluted the proposed and final rules that have been made public. Moreover, the FAA failed to meet deadlines mandated by Congress on two of the three rules Public Citizen examined.
  • The Gore Commission recommended several measures to improve screening company performance, including a national job grade structure for screeners and meaningful measures to reward employees. It also called for airlines to hire screening companies on the basis of performance, not the lowest bidder. The proposed FAA rule, however, did not require any of these measures and would still allow airlines to hire the lowest bidder regardless of their track record.
  • The Gore Commission called for criminal background and FBI fingerprint checks for all airport and airline workers who screen passengers for weapons or have access to secure areas. The industry has long opposed mandatory criminal checks, and the FAA s final rule did not require criminal checks for screeners (the only group addressed by the rule) it instituted only job history checks. These job history checks, the FAA estimated, would lead to criminal/fingerprint checks of only 63 of the 16,996 new screeners in 1999.
  • The Gore Commission called for greater scrutiny of checked baggage, including a system to make sure checked bags “match” passengers on board. The industry objected, and the FAA scuttled the Gore proposal after deeming it too costly, even though the Gore Commission said cost should not be the determining factor in rulemaking. An FAA-funded study showed that bag-matching would cause an average delay of only seven minutes on 14 percent of flights and cost 25-52 cents per passenger.
  • The airlines often objected to the security recommendations on the basis of cost. One airline even complained about increased photocopying costs.
  • In 2000, the top nine airlines and their trade association, the Air Transport Association (ATA), spent $16.6 million lobbying the federal government in the year 2000. The same group spent $62.9 million lobbying the federal government from 1997 through 2000, the period when the federal government was trying to convert Gore Commission recommendations to regulations.
  • These airlines and the ATA employed 210 lobbyists, including 108 lobbyists with “revolving door” connections. (They worked in Congress or another branch of the federal government prior to being hired by the airlines.)
  • Of these lobbyists, 10 were former members of Congress. Two held cabinet posts as secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), which oversees the FAA. Another three held senior positions at the FAA. Fifteen lobbyists employed by the top airlines in 2000 have worked in the White House.
  • Critics complain that the FAA is too cozy with the airline industry. The top job at the FAA the FAA administrator has been filled in recent years by three people who previously worked for the airline industry. (But not the current administrator, Jane Garvey, who was director of Boston s Logan International Airport.)
  • Because of the industry s campaigns against stricter security regulations and the FAA s resulting regulatory failure, it is clear that the responsibility for overseeing any improved aviation security program enacted by Congress must be given to an agency outside the FAA. Public Citizen believes a new aviation law enforcement agency is clearly needed that is either independent of the DOT/FAA or housed at the Department of Justice. This would ensure that aviation security matters would be more insulated from airline industry pressure tactics. Unlike the FAA, this new agency would be exclusively devoted to assessing and addressing aviation security threats and to coordinating with other law enforcement agencies.