Airport Security Improvement Act of 2000

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In 2000, Congress submitted a bill to the President detailing a proposal that would outline the procedure of improved security in American airports. At the time, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a Republican Senator from Texas, and her cosponsors did not realize the issues with airport security that would lie ahead in the next year. However, they were aware of an audit done in 1999 of the airport access controls. This investigation revealed the need for better airport security.

Improved security throughout the nation had become a top priority following the bombing of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on Friday, August 7, 1998. That added to the tragedies of the Oklahoma City bombing (1995), the Olympic pipe bombing (1996) and the Columbine shootings (1999) and the other catastrophes of the 90’s only enhanced Congress’s hunger for better national security. Just as Osama bin Laden was added to the FBI’s most wanted list, the Department of Transportation (DOT) began a federal campaign for safer and more secure roads, railways, shipways and airlines.

In March of 2000 the House Subcommittee on Aviation held a hearing on aviation security. At that time, DOT’s Inspector General and the General Accounting

Office (GAO) pointed out weaknesses in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) security program. They said that the security screener performance was “weak linked” (Ref. Vol. 146, No. 133). Specifically, they said that the FAA’s background investigation procedures are often ineffective and those vulnerabilities put airport security in jeopardy. More importantly, Ronnie Shows (D-MS) points to the millions of people and their baggage that go through airports everyday. His concern was with the security of the screening checkpoints and the under qualified screeners inspecting baggage. With a turnover rate of more than 419 in one national airport his concern seemed well founded. His hope was that an increase in training would increase the specialization of the job as well as the wages. In return, the screeners would be more capable and willing to identify problems.

On April 13, 2000, Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Richard H. Bryan (D-NV), Slade Gorton (R-WA), Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), John S. McCain (R-AZ) and John Davison Rockefeller IV (D-WV) introduced to the 106th Congress a bill to amend Title 49 of the Untied States Code to improve airport security (S. 2440). The bill specifically looks towards Subtitle VII of Title 49 where the aviation programs of mass transportation are addressed (Title 49).

Those in support of the bill pointed out, in further debates throughout the sessions, the terrorist attack on Pan American World Airways flight 103 on December 21, 1988, which destroyed a Boeing 737 and killed all 259 passengers and crew along with 11 citizens of Lockerbie Scotland (PanAm). This was the beginning of the President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism (Vol. 146, No.133).

James L. Oberstar, a Democrat from Minnesota who was in favor of the bill, told the Speaker of the House and his fellow congressmen that in 1990 the Commission’s report found the civilian aviation security system to be extremely flawed. The report included multiple breaches into secured areas and 117 successful aircraft boardings and the sixty-four recommendations that were made, to which the FAA responded well. However, he mentioned that six years later, after the suspicion that terrorism was responsible for the TWA 800 explosion near Long Island, President Clinton ordered the initiation of another commission called the 1996 White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. It included a charter to study matters involving aviation safety and security, including air traffic control, and to develop a strategy to improve aviation safety and security, both domestically and internationally. The commission was to spend six months studying airport security and to send a final report, which was received by the President on February 12, 1997, outlining recommendations for improvements. Mr. Oberstar pointed out that once again, Congress responded quickly to the 31 recommendations for better security.

Among the concerns resulting from the hearing by the Aviation Subcommittee held on April 6, 2000, with Admiral Cathal Flynn, the most prominent were the lax of criminal background checks for employee’s hired for security, the need for more training of the security team, and the recommendation that security personnel who overlook potential dangers to be held accountable for their actions (ASSH).

To address these concerns, the proposed bill required a criminal history record check for applicants who apply for a position as a screener, a screener supervisor, or any position that allows for unescorted access to secured areas of an airport. It also added more crimes to the list of those that would disqualify a person for such jobs. In addition, bill also encouraged the use of programs requiring a minimum of 40 hours of classroom training and 40 hours of on-the-job, the use of fingerprint identification for airline pilots, and the increased usage of the explosion detection machines that were installed due to prior legislation, though not into every airport (S. 2440).

The Airport Security Improvement Act of 2000 (ASIA) was signed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives, passing by more than a majority vote in each house, and sent to the President of the United States who signed it into law on November 22, 2000. It was a bipartisan bill that was quickly moved through Congress and signed by the President after the Subcommittee’s hearing revealed a near unanimous need for immediate action.

Introduction:

On April 13, 2000, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson introduced the bill to amend title 49 of the United States Code to the Senate. She, along with her cosponsors, informed the Senate that in the year 2000, approximately 500 million passengers will have gone through the airports in this country. “Protecting their safety is an incredible challenge to the men and women of the aviation industry. The Federal Government, through the Federal Aviation Administration and Industry together, must do everything within our power to protect the public from the menace of terrorism and other security threats” (S2759).

She continued giving the history of Title 49 by reminding the Senate that in 1996, after the TWA flight 800 tragedy, she proposed and Congress adopted a plan to improve security in airports (S2760). The Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 1996 was the result. Its purpose was to improve the hiring process and increase the professionalism of the airport screeners. The FAA was also to upgrade security with new technology for baggage screening and explosives detection. Four years later, the FAA still had not finalized regulations to improve training requirements for screeners or certification for screening companies. In fact, they had set their deadline for May 2001, more than five years after the bill was signed. Senator Hutchinson also pointed out that technology upgrades had been slow despite the availability of new screening devises.

The FAA’s procedure for background checks is another important issue that the new bill would enhance. At the time, a background check was done whenever a 12-month gap or longer existed in an applicant’s resume. The background checks done by the FAA in 2000 took an average of 90 days. Senator Hutchinson pointed out that 43% of violent felons, at that time, spent approximately 7 months in prison (S2759). A twelve-month period is too long and shortening it would be more effective in revealing unappealing applicants.

In addition, in her address, Mrs. Hutchinson stated that her bill would require, along with the above, improved training requirements as of September 30, 2000 including 40 hours of classroom instruction and 40 hours of on-the-job training. This would be a large increase over the 8 hour of classroom training that was the standard at the time. Finally, a strengthened procedure to limit unauthorized access to aircraft would be in the new bill. Failure to follow the procedures would result in suspension or termination (S2759).

Senator McCain (R-AZ), continued in the introduction of the bill, to say that not only would background checks be necessary for applicants with gaps in their employment history, but also for all screeners whether there was a gap or not (S2760). He also pointed out other areas of change that the committee had brought to his attention including the narrow list of disqualifying offences that are found in background checks and the need to expand the list.

Mr. McCain continued by saying that this bill is not a response to terrorist threat, however, he was astounded that assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, larceny, or possession of drugs were not among the disqualifying offences. He, along with the other sponsors of the bill, promised to address these issues and make great improvements on the security in airports (S2760).

The agenda:

Following introduction of a bill to the House or Senate, and in this case the Senate, legislative analysts in the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress write and abstract that objectively describes its most significant parts in about 250 words. The summary and the proposed bill went to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on June 15, 2000. The committee then sent a report to the Senate outlining proposed amendments for the new bill. On that same day, August 25, 2000, the bill was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders and assigned Calendar No. 764.

In the committee’s report, which recommended that the bill pass, the committee further elaborated on the need for heightened security policy in American airports. The report stated that according to the General Accounting Office (GAO), approximately 2 million passengers and their baggage go through airports every day in the United States. Between May 1998 and April 1999, according to the GAO, turnover averaged 126 percent and one airport actually reported a 416 percent turnover rate (Airport). The committee further stressed the need for more training and the certification of screening companies. The result of which would be higher pay and benefits due to the expertise of the job. This would make the mundane job more appealing and make workers more eager to keep their jobs.

The committee also reported that in early 1999 during routine tests the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (IG) accessed 68% of the secure areas they tested and boarded aircraft 117 times due to lapses in security (Business). The IG said that most of these could have been prevented if the employees would have been less careless and followed correct procedures.

The report further addresses the estimated costs of the bill, and such aspects as the number of persons covered, the economic impact, privacy issues, paperwork and outlines the major provisions of the bill. Each of these was considered reasonable results of the bill. For example, the costs on the economy would only in the purchasing of equipment such as fingerprint scanners (under sections 2 and 6) and the possibility of suspension without pay or termination of workers who fail to adhere to procedures, which the committee predicted would be offset by the lower cost of background checks and reduced costs associated with incidents due to security lapses. With the concern for privacy, the committee agreed that passengers already know that their baggage may be checked and that the increased precautions would not be an issue.

Committee report’s outline of the issues:

Section 2 of the bill requires the FAA to “expand and accelerate the current pilot project know as the Electronic Fingerprint Transmission Pilot.” This would reduce the time needed to process ink fingerprints from two weeks or more to about 3 days. This project is required under section 2 to be in place and functional within one year of the bills enactment. Section 2 would also require a background check for all screening applicants beginning at least by a one-year period following the bill’s enactment along with and expanded list of disqualifying offences.

Section 3 covers the improved training requirements. Subsection (a) states that the FAA is to have a proposed rule for certification of screening companies be 30 days following the bill. It also requires a deadline for the final rule by May 31, 2001 and the public comments be taken into account when making the rule. Subsection (b) addresses the 40 hours of classroom training and 40 hours of practical on-the-job training, or (if allowed by the FAA’s rule) an on-the-job training test for certified screeners.

Section 4 requires the FAA to work t improve security area access control. The Committee stressed here, that the lapse of security could cost lives. The recognized that the employees’ jobs require focus and urge the FAA to make sanctions that would be clear, strong and imposed in proportion to the impact of the lapse. The Committee also recommended that employees who breach the security policy be punished in a “meaningful” way.

Section 5 requires the FAA to improve security at its own facilities, which was recommended by the GAO.

Section 6 says that the gradual increase of if the Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) use in airports with EDS technology. The Committee realized that EDS takes more time and this would help that problem. This would allow passengers to continue to walk through metal detectors and have their carry-on baggage screened. However, only those that fit the profile will be subject to higher levels of scrutiny including EDS screening.

Section 7 makes technical changes to preexisting laws.

There were no debates on the validity and necessity of this act. There were never any clear objections to the bill during the floor debates. Instead all of the testimony was in favor of the improve security in airports. After the introduction of the act and the testimony in favor of it, it went back to committee without protest and was soon brought back to the floor for a vote.

Senate votes on the bill:

On October 3rd 2000 Senator Roberts made a motion that the Senate consider Calendar No. 764, S. 2440 (S9770). There was no objection and the clerk read the bill. Following the reading Senator McCain once again expressed his desire to see that the bill be passes. He reiterated that airport security seemed to be in a good state. “But as I have said before, we cannot relax our efforts, especially given the significant growth in air travel. The threats to our nation remain real, and that airline industry unfortunately remains and attractive target” (S9771).

Senator Hollings (SC) then stood and expressed his interest in the bill. He reminded the Senate that “airport security is our first line of defense against terrorist attacks or other dangerous acts” (S9772). He then informed them that the average wage for an airport screener in the Untied States is $5.75 per hour with minimal benefits. “We can’t expect security personnel who are receiving minimum-wage or near-minimum wage to realize just how important their jobs are to the overall security of the airport and to have a commitment to their jobs” (S9772). Although there is not provision in the bill that would raise their wage, Mr. Hollings used this argument to persuade his colleagues that the increase in training is needed as well as discipline for those who fail to comply with security rules.

Senator Roberts then made a motion that the bill read for a third time and voted upon to be passed in the amended form submitted by the Committee. There was no objection and so the presiding officer ordered it. The committee’s amendment was agreed to and the Senate passed the bill with a unanimous vote after the third reading.

House of Representatives:

The message was sent to the House of Representatives and received on October 4, 2000. It was referred to that House committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that same day. On October 23, 2000, Mr. LaTourette (R-OH) introduced S. 2440 to the House (H.R. 4529). The clerk read the bill with the amendments made by the House Committee (H10523).

Mr. LaTourette began by informing his fellow representatives that the GAO testified, in a Subcommittee hearing that took place the March 2000, that security screeners detected about 10,000 guns in five years and that even more weapons still pass thought airport check points undetected (H10525). Like the Senators, he reminded his colleagues that a screener at an airport makes little more than minimum wage and specifically said that they could make more at a fast food restaurant. He also reported the number of turnovers in the last year.

In addition to these facts, he told the House that the DOT Inspector General reported that even though Congress authorized $350 million for the EDSs that are not used as often as they could be (H10525). Then, he conveyed the list of 25 crimes that would exclude an applicant and the lack of such crimes as bribery on the list. Finally, Mr. LaTourette encouraged a vote in favor of the bill by saying, “[it] attempts to plug some of the other holes in our aviation security system that hearing have revealed” (H10525). “…In short, while security in this country is good, it could be better…this bill will make it better, and it will do this at very little cost to the FAA, the airlines and, the airports” (H10525).

After Mr. LaTourette’s address, a summary of the bill was read and the floor was passed to Mr. Shows (MI) who further elaborated on Mr. LaTourette’s points. Then Mr. Oberstar’s testimony is inserted. He, like the others reflected on the Pan American World Airways Flight 103. He recalled that on December 21, 1988 a terrorist bomb tore apart the Boeing 737 killing 259 passengers and crew along with 11 residents of Lockerbie, Scotland, the town the plane was over when it exploded (H10526). He then reminded them that the President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism responded to the incident. Mr. Oberstar (D-MN) served as the commissioner and he told the House of some of the results of the Commission in attempt to further persuade them t vote in favor of the bill.

The balance of Mr. LaTourette’s time was then yielded back. The rules were then suspended and the Senate bill, as amended, was passed by two-thirds of the House.

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