Place security before politics

I fully support President Bush in our war against terrorism, but I am deeply disappointed by the position he and his party initially took on airport security.

Although the Senate voted unanimously to make airport security guards federal employees, the House last month voted along party lines to keep this function in the private sector. I just don't get it.

I thought we were at war. During war, it's not politics as usual. We're all supposed to do what's best for the country. Clearly, what's best for the country is beefed up airport security. The Senate bill contained a number of provisions, such as reinforcing cockpit doors, that are supported by the House. The contentious issue was airport security.

So why couldn't our leaders put that issue aside and pass legislation that strengthens airport security? It is irresponsible to delay such important legislation for partisan reasons.

You could even make the case that because we are at war, anyone who is party to intentionally delaying the passage of such vital legislation is playing into the hands of the terrorists. Well, maybe that is a stretch, but it's not much of a stretch.

How can our leaders — including President Bush — play political games and risk the lives of travelers? What's the justification?

We keep hearing about breaches of security at airports. One man went through security with a knife in his pocket. Another got through with knives, guns and tear gas. The Federal Aviation Administration keeps fining the leading airport security firm for failing to meet government standards. So what happens? Some security guards are fired. Yes, they should be fired, but so should their managers, because it happened on their watch. But the managers have not been fired.

Fortunately, Congress passed and Bush signed legislation that transfers control of airport security to the feds. It's not that federal employees can do a better job than private-sector workers. Rather, federal employees probably will be paid twice as much as their private-sector counterparts, attracting more skilled workers. This is America, and we live by the Golden Rule: He who has the gold rules.

The airlines and the airports treated airport security like a nuisance. They spent as little on it as they could. Just recently, Southwest Airlines Co. hired the security company mentioned above to handle its airport security function. The airlines are too fixated on profits. Passenger safety is considered as a line item. Forget about making airlines as safe as they can be.

In retrospect, treating airline safety this way was a huge mistake. How could our leaders have been so blind? And how could the airlines have been so greedy? What did they get in return? A government bailout.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at [email protected]

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