TCRA: Security legislation inadequate

By Stephen S. Glass
Star Staff

   Tri-Cities Regional Airport Director John Hanlin says that pending federal legislation raises important questions regarding the federalization of airport security -- mainly, who should provide and pay for security at smaller airports, and who should be held responsible for security breaches?
   Hanlin recently wrote to U.S. Congressman John J. Duncan concerning legislation on airport security from both the House and the Senate scheduled for committee discussion this week. Hanlin says both bills are inadequate when it comes to providing security at smaller airports.
   According to Hanlin, neither bill would provide federal employees to handle screening at smaller airports.
   "Ultimately, if the federal government assumes responsibility for security at larger airports, it should also assume responsibility for security at all airports to maintain consistency in the security process, a proper chain of authority, and a funding source."
   Hanlin said the Senate bill does not provide for federalization of security for all airports, but would require smaller, non-hub airports like TCRA to provide local law enforcement officers to take over screening procedures from current airline-contract employees.
   "The bottom line is that many smaller airports, not the airlines or the federal government, will be held responsible for checkpoint security and any resulting violations," Hanlin said.
   Hanlin said that the House bill, though flawed, is preferable to Senate legislation for one reason: The House Bill, HR 3150, would authorize Congress to decide how many airports should have screening by federal employees and how many can be screened by private-contract personnel rather than sheriff's department deputies or police officers, who would presumably have to juggle shifts at airports while also attending to local law enforcement.
   Hanlin said that properly trained and better-paid contract employees should be able to handle security checks as well as federal employees, but that airlines, not airports, should be responsible for hiring and overseeing security personnel.
   For a number or reasons, Hanlin says that many non-hub airport operators are "opposed to the enactment of any provision by the House-Senate conferees that would require smaller airports to take over the screening function from the airlines."
   He said that Congress needs to avoid creating two levels of security for large and small airports. Hanlin says he does not understand why local law enforcement officers should be presumed to deal with security better than contract employees who receive the same training as federal personnel.
   Hanlin also said that public opinion needs to be considered by lawmakers.
   "Being perceived as providing second-class security could hamper smaller airports' efforts to attract and serve local passengers," Hanlin said.
   He said that the Senate bill, in requiring airports to provide local law enforcement officers would, could mean increased costs for airports and not enough control over security.
   "Non-hub airports would be responsible for screening violations...but would have limited authority to control that process," said Hanlin. "Unless the Senate language is eliminated in conference, non-hub airport directors will be caught in the middle, bearing liability for violations even though they would not have control over the screening process."
   Hanlin said that if airports are ordered to have local law enforcement officers screen passengers, the federal government needs to pay for insurance liability premiums.