WASHINGTON -- Just as thousands of Americans prepared to travel
over the busy Thanksgiving holiday weekend, President Bush signed
the Aviation Security Act into law, transferring the responsibility
for passenger and baggage screening at airports from the airlines
to the federal government.
The new law, which ushers in numerous security upgrades, creates
a new Transportation Security Administration within the
Transportation Department, to be headed by an undersecretary, yet
to be named.
The law increases the use of federal marshals on commercial
The act also calls for a system to match checked bags to
passengers, to be developed within 60 days. It also requires
baggage screening to the maximum extent possible, with full
explosive-detection systems in place by end of 2002, by using best
methods to screen bags.
To pay for these programs, the law establishes an airline ticket
fee of $2.50 to $5 per one-way segment. In all, some $2.6 billion
will be spent to improve airport security, including the estimated
$700 million a year the airlines presently spend on airport
During a signing ceremony at Washington National Airport,
President Bush said the law represents "A new commitment to
security in the air."
The Security Act's most hotly debated provision calls for
federal workers after one-year to replace the 28,000 employees now
working for private airport security firms, under contract to the
The one-year transition period gives the federal government time
"to work to keep them in place," said Transportation Secretary
Norman Mineta at a press conference after the signing. "We would
like to see a seamless change during the transition period. We have
to make sure that [security firms] and their employees don't walk
off the scene," Mineta said.
In addition to drawing up new performance standards for the
baggage screeners and for the "safeguarding of all areas of the
airport," the DOT will require that the screeners be U.S. citizens
and speak English fluently.
Also, under the security law, federal airport security workers
will not be permitted to strike, Mineta said.
The security bill stalled for several weeks in Congress over
whether airport security workers should be federal employees, as
voted by the Senate, or merely supervised by the federal
government, the approach that passed the House.
The two camps reached a compromise on Nov. 14 that allows
airports to opt out of the federal program and institute their own
security procedures after three years. However, Mineta said, he
doubted whether many airports would.
"There is a possibility that some airport might do that, but I'm
not sure there is an incentive for the airports to do that," Mineta
FAA rules ramp up current security
WASHINGTON -- The security provided by private firms at airports
has fallen under intense scrutiny since Sept. 11.
Since then, the Federal Aviation Administration has adopted a
series of tougher security standards that include prohibiting
passengers from carrying certain items, such as pocketknives, on to
It also has established a "zero tolerance" policy on airport
security that includes swift action in the event of a security
Atlanta's Hartsfield, for example, was virtually shut down on
Nov. 16 after one man breached security by running down the up
escalator at baggage claim, then getting on the airport train that
runs between baggage claim and the concourses.
By essentially traveling backward through the system from
baggage claim, an unsecured public area, the man could have
bypassed security screening. Officials evacuated every concourse,
re-screened everybody and stopped almost all arriving and departing
flights for three hours, which forced flight delays and
cancellations across the country.
Mineta said the zero tolerance policy would be maintained.
Andrew Compart contributed to this report.