Bad time to reduce air security
With the heavy summer travel season upon us, this is an odd time to reduce the number of security screeners at the nation’s airports. Yet, that is precisely what airports and travelers face this summer.
The anti-terrorism agency created by Congress after Sept. 11, 2001, has cut its workforce of passenger and baggage screeners from 60,000 to 45,000.
At Denver International Airport, the federal cutbacks amount to a reduction of 125 screeners. That means 725 screeners will be staffing security checkpoints at DIA this summer, down from the 850 authorized by the Transportation Security Administration at its peak.
TSA officials claim they can do the job with fewer screeners and without major delays as long as the public cooperates. Passengers have been asked to put metal items, cellphones, pagers and other personal items in clear plastic bags when they enter screening lines. And, of course, they are encouraged to wear easily removable shoes – and then to remove them.
But while longer lines are inevitable, plastic bags and quick-release footwear notwithstanding, we can only hope U.S. airports are not letting down their guard and laying out a welcome mat for terrorists.
Some airline officials already have predicted this will be one of the busiest travel seasons in recent memory. United, for one, is adding to its daily schedule to accommodate the expected increased passenger load. The carrier is also hiring its own private employees to help with screening.
Part of the irony here is that Congress created the Transportation Security Administration after the Sept. 11 terror attacks precisely to replace private screeners who critics said were poorly trained by companies more interested in profits than security. At the time, Washington lawmakers couldn’t wait to get the better-trained federal workforce disbursed to the nation’s airports to help thwart terrorism.
Now, as we approach the third anniversary of the 2001 attacks, airport managers have grown frustrated with the restrictions that go along with the federal screeners and want private screeners back. Some Congressional Republicans, bent on shrinking government, want to return all remaining airport screener jobs to the private sector where they were before the attacks.
In the wake of Sept. 11, many people stopped flying, airport traffic plummeted and airlines curtailed flights. With public confidence returning – as evidenced by the steadily increasing volume of passengers – now is not the time for the transportation security office to let down its guard.