WASHINGTON – Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., expressed concern Wednesday about the safety of airline travel in light of a series of recent airport security lapses, despite extra security precautions ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“There continue to be troubling lapses in security,” Lieberman said at a hearing he convened in conjunction with the subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management to examine if aviation security has improved since the terrorist attacks. “Aviation security has improved since September 11, but we have a ways to go before we have full confidence in the security of our skies.”
Department of Transportation Inspector General Kenneth Mead testified that less than10 percent of checked baggage was scanned for bombs. Lieberman called that fact “stunning” and further noted that a recent spot-check of sophisticated bomb inspection machines at selected airports over the Veterans’ Day weekend found that fewer than 30 percent were in continuous use, despite an FAA directive ordering more usage.
In this context, Lieberman called for quick passage of aviation security legislation now
being debated in a House-Senate conference. The bill calls for expanding the air marshal program and federalizing passenger and baggage screening services. Included in the Senate version of the measure are provisions authored by Lieberman and Committee member Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill., that would expand background checks of airport personnel, employ more effective passenger and baggage screening procedures and equipment, and fund accelerated research and development of promising new security technologies.
“Prior to September 11, we let ourselves become too relaxed,” Lieberman said. “But if we had had the Senate aviation security bill in place, as well as the FAA directives now being implemented, it would have been a lot harder for the terrorists to have succeeded. It will truly be outrageous if Congress leaves for Thanksgiving without passing aviation security legislation and sending it to the President for his signature.”
“I am encouraged by some of the steps taken by the FAA to bolster security, including the stationing of National Guard personnel at airports, the expanded use of computer programs to pre-screen passengers, and the use of FBI watch lists to check passengers and employees,” Lieberman added. “They all speak to a much-needed state of extra vigilance.”
He also welcomed the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that has resulted in some inconvenience to passengers – such as delayed flights and concourse evacuations – but that shows “the government is more willing to take tough action to enforce compliance with its directives.”