For better or for worse, the federal government is now in charge of airport security.
President George W. Bush signed sweeping new aviation security legislation into law yesterday at Ronald Reagan National Airport. The legislation, passed by Congress last week, calls for more sky marshals on flights, federal oversight at screening stations, more hand searches of carryon baggage, and more computer-based prescreening of passengers.
"Today, we take permanent and aggressive steps to improve the security of our airways," said Bush. "The events of Sept. 11th were a call to action."
For the first time, airport security will become a direct federal responsibility. Airport security will now be overseen by a new Under Secretary of Transportation for Security. The government will provide additional funds for federal air marshals, and a new team of federal security managers, supervisors, law enforcement officers and screeners will ensure all passengers and carry-on bags are inspected thoroughly and effectively.
The new law also calls for strict new requirements to screen checked baggage, to tighten security in all other areas of airports, and to provide greater security for travelers by bus and train.
The bill sets a one-year deadline for the transition to the new system.
Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta said that he has begun a series of meetings with key stakeholders to map out a structure and schedule of "next steps."
Mineta revealed that the new federal agents hired to inspect passengers and screen baggage will not be permitted to strike, can be quickly removed if they neglect their work, and must be U.S. citizens.
"Safety remains our highest priority," said Mineta. "And when it comes to safety, we will set high standards - and we will enforce them."
by Sandy Smith