Dems: GOP Off On Airport Security

Pendleton Police Officer Brent Gambill, left, and Oregon Army National Guard Sgt. Christopher Hamby stand guard at Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton, Ore., as Horizon Airlines customer service representatives Laurie Whittaker, and Renae Smith screen an unidentified passenger Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2001.
AP
New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Mark Green on Saturday denounced as misguided the aviation security bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and backed by President Bush.

Delivering the Democrats' weekly radio address, Green also made a plug for a competing plan that won the unanimous approval of the Democratic-led U.S. Senate.

The House bill would put the federal government in charge of airport security. But unlike the Senate measure, baggage and passenger screeners would remain private rather than federal workers.

Both measures are designed to make aviation safer following the
hijacked-jetliner attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

The two bills have many areas in common — including fortifying cockpit doors, increasing air marshals and expanding check-in baggage inspections — but take separate paths on how to tighten screening procedures.

"If September 11 proved nothing else, it is that our airports and skyways are a national security front line," Green said. "They must be patrolled by well-trained professionals, public servants with a strong sense of duty to their country," he said.

"We wouldn't dream of outsourcing the functions of the Army or Navy, or replacing New York firefighters with private consultants," Green said. "Why should aviation security be any different, especially after 9-11?"

Green will face Republican financier Michael Bloomberg in Tuesday's election to succeed Rudolph Giuliani as mayor of New York City. Polls show the race is neck and neck, with Bloomberg erasing a huge Green lead. The popular Giuliani has endorsed Bloomberg.

The House and Senate are expected to begin trying to resolve differences between their bills next week so they can send a final unified measure to Bush to sign into law.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert Friday urged Congress to get the aviation security bill to President Bush by Thanksgiving.

The House on Thursday voted 286-139 to increase federal oversight of airport security, after narrowly rejecting the Senate bill.

The action came after arm-twisting, last-minute amendments and procedural delays as both sides scrambled for votes.

Mr. Bush urged fence-sitters to back the Republican bill, while flight attendants collared lawmakers on Capitol Hill to argue for the Senate version.

Green said, "The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has failed to pass a strong piece of legislation, which would have provided uniform standards by federalizing the aviation security workforce."

"Although this bill passed the Senate unanimously ... House Republican leaders held it up for weeks, citing an increase in union membership as a main concern," he said.

"Now they've passed a much-weaker alternative, which fails to end the flawed system of private outsourcing for aviation security, a system that too often puts the bottom line ahead of the safety of American travelers," Green warned.

"The lowest bidders -- th ones who pay the lowest wages and invest the least in training -- get many of these contracts," he said.

"We've seen several security lapses even since September 11, and some companies have faced criminal prosecutions and federal fines," the Democratic candidate said.

Also on Saturday, federal authorities evacuated the Southwest Airlines concourse at Baltimore-Washington International Airport after a woman tried to "test" airport security at a checkpoint, officials said.

One Boeing 737 had pushed back from the gate and two others were boarding at about 7:15 a.m., when the Federal Aviation Administration ordered scores of travelers out of the airport's 16-gate Concourse B for a security sweep that kept the facility shut for nearly three hours.

Passengers then had to be re-screened before being allowed back onto their planes after the concourse reopened at about 9:50 a.m.

There were no details from the FAA or airport officials about what happened at the checkpoint at BWI, located about 10 miles outside the city of Baltimore.

"An individual was trying to test security, and she has been detained," said FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto. Authorities said the woman was later released.

"It is another example of a zero tolerance policy that's been in place since last week. If security isn't operating properly, we shut the facility down," Takemoto said.

Security has been tightened at U.S. airports since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Federal officials, including President Bush, have since pronounced the airline travel system safe. But authorities have been embarrassed several times by individuals smuggling box cutters and other banned items through checkpoints in order to call attention to lingering security gaps.

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