Lieberman Urges Conferees to Preserve Technology Upgrades in Airport Security Bill

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (D-CT) has urged House and Senate conferees on the aviation security bill to preserve technology-related provisions as they negotiate a compromise. In a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the Senate Aviation Subcommittee, and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the House Subcommittee on Aviation, Lieberman asked that Title II of S.1447, the Senate aviation security bill, be retained in the conference committee’s final report. Following is text of the letter:

November 5, 2001
The Honorable Ernest F. Hollings
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
508 Senate Dirksen Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Hollings:

The conference committee to resolve the differences between the Senate- and House-passed versions of the Aviation Security bill will have many important issues to address that will affect the future safety of air transportation. In the course of the committee’s deliberations, I strongly urge the retention of Title II of S. 1447, which contains a number of technology-related provisions that I believe will do a better job of enhancing the overall level of security in commercial aviation than those contained in the House bill, H.R. 3150. This Title is based on the amendment I introduced with Senator Durbin.
Title II of S. 1447 contains three subtitles, which together set out a comprehensive strategy for improving aviation safety by ensuring that the existing technology is deployed for maximum effectiveness, identifying and deploying short-term technology upgrades, and accelerating research and development of improved technology. I have set out below a description of each subtitle and a comparison to H.R. 3150:

Subtitle A

•                                                              sets strict standards for background checks on existing airport personnel who perform screening functions or have access to secure areas. Many airport employees have not had such checks, even though they are required, or have not had such checks updated.

•                                                              requires the development of alternative checks for those who have not lived in the U.S. for 5 years, and who therefore do not have a sufficient history in this country to provide assurance of their trustworthiness.

•                                                              calls for expanded deployment and utilization of current security technologies, such as explosives detection equipment for scanning checked baggage, and requires that this deployment occur under a specific timetable.  Currently, explosives detection equipment that is available for use in major airports has been significantly under-utilized, and many other machines have been purchased by FAA but not deployed.

•                                                              authorizes airport operators to use funds under the Airport Improvement Program to make necessary changes to baggage-handling areas to accommodate this equipment.

•                                                              requires the expansion of computer-assisted passenger prescreening (CAPPS) to all passengers and the use of additional security measures for persons selected under this system, and their carry-on luggage.

                Comparison with H.R. 3150

•                                                              leaves to the discretion of the Under Secretary of Transportation the decision to conduct “more thorough” background checks for a more limited group of airport personnel

•                                                              does not require alternative checks for recent immigrants

•                                                              does not require updated checks for existing employees

•                                                              does not authorize the use of funds to accommodate explosives detection equipment

                Subtitle B

•                                                              requires a short-term assessment of available security technologies to prevent access to secure areas of an airport by unauthorized persons, specifies which systems should be studied (such as biometrics systems in use at several airports, card- and keypad-based access systems, monitoring emergency exits that lead to secure areas, and the elimination of “piggy-backing”- where another person follows an authorized person through an access point), and sets a schedule for assessing and deploying these strategies      

•                                                              directs the deployment of recommended upgrades to CAPPS and to “watch list” dissemination technology within 6 months

•                                                              mandates a study of technology-based options for improving positive passenger identification at check-in and boarding areas, including the use of biometrics and “smart cards,” and requires a schedule for the deployment of these identification methods

                Comparison with H.R. 3150

•                                                              leaves to the discretion of the Under Secretary of Transportation the decision to impose standards for the screening of those with access to secure areas, to provide for enhanced use of computer technology to screen passengers, and to provide for the use of technology to verify the identity of those entering secure areas

•                                                              does not require deployment of any additional standards or technology

                 Subtitle C

•                                                              authorizes additional grant funding of $50 million per year through 2006 to accelerate research and development of new aviation security technologies, including:

•                      Explosives detection technology that is more cost-effective (for small- to medium-sized airports), faster (to facilitate screening at larger airports), and more accurate (to reduce false positives)

•                      More effective technology for screening carry on items that would detect and identify weapons, explosives and components of weapons of mass destruction

•                      Threat-screening technology for items being loaded onto aircraft, such as catering, cargo, and duty-free items

•                      Technology to detect threats carried on persons boarding aircraft or entering secure areas, including explosives

•                      Improved methods of education, training and testing of airport security personnel

•                      Aircraft hardening materials and techniques to reduce the vulnerability of aircraft to terrorist attack

•                                                              directs the Transportation Department to submit a budget and detailed deployment strategy for security upgrades recommended upon completion of the grants

•                                                              authorizes $20 million for long-term research grants for:

•                                                                                                      aviation security improvements, including advanced weapons detection

•                                                                                                      secure networking and sharing of threat information between Federal agencies, law enforcement, and other appropriate parties

•                                                                                                      advances in biometrics for identification and threat assessment

•                                                                                                      other technologies for preventing acts of terrorism in aviation

                Comparison with H.R. 3150

                No comparable provisions

The provisions contained in Title II of S. 1447 will ensure that technology and related procedural upgrades are implemented to enhance the overall level of aviation security. They will also speed the development of improved technology that will provide even better protections with fewer delays to travelers. Ultimately, the long-term recovery of air commerce depends on restoring the public’s trust in the safety of our airports and air travel; the provisions I have described are a first step toward achieving that goal. Again, I urge you to include them in the final conference report, so that the public can be assured that comprehensive and adequate security measures will be put in place.

Joseph I. Lieberman
United States Senator