The Failures of Screeners
Investigators have found that U.S. airport security isn’t improving, and two U.S. Senators are saying the Department of Homeland Security has not yet produced a plan to protect the U.S. transportation system.
Richard Skinner, the DHS’s acting inspector general, adds that airports may need to deploy new technology for effective screening.
Additionally, John Mica, a Florida Republican who is chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, says he will push to replace government screeners with private workers.
The DHS investigation covered hundreds of tests at 15 airports between Nov. 29 and Feb. 4, where investigators found no improvement from similar examinations performed in 2003.
“We tried the big government, bureaucratic system,” Mica said at a news conference. “Now it’s time to change that. [Private screeners] have done a better job and can do a better job.”
Skinner points to backscatter X-ray technology as a potential answer to airport screening problems. The technology, he says in the report, would help screeners detect weapons concealed in clothing.
Following Skinner’s assessment came an equally critical report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in early May.
The GAO report takes issue with the Transportation Security Administration’s failure to formulate a standard to measure the quality of its airport screeners and for not providing them all the training they were promised.
The GAO says it may not be possible for screeners to detect 100 percent of dangerous items that airline passengers try to bring onto planes. But the TSA needs to set a standard for the screeners so it can focus on where to improve.
TSA screeners’ ability to find guns, weapons and other dangerous items since the Sept. 11 attacks has been an ongoing concern.
“Weaknesses and vulnerabilities continue to exist in passenger and checked baggage screening systems at airports of all sizes,” the GAO report concludes.
The failure of the TSA was further highlighted in a letter from Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) to the DHS urging the agency to finish a transportation security plan within the next three months.
Though intelligence officials say al-Qaida continues to be interested in attacks on aviation, terrorists have also attacked ships, trains, transit systems and buses around the world.
Under questioning from Congress in 2003, then-chief of the TSA James Loy said a plan would be finished by the end of the year. Congress later set a deadline of April 1 for the plan. It was not met.
IN THE NEWS
DHS SEEKS TO LIMIT LIABILITY LAWSUITS
The Department of Homeland Security is seeking to shield more antiterror research companies from product liability lawsuits, Secretary Michael Chertoff says.
Chertoff, speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the department has “not fully succeeded in exploiting” legislation that limits the extent companies can be sued for problematic products.
“I have a great deal of respect and understanding of the importance of our legal system,” he adds. “But I also know how important it is that the legal system not create unduly high and burdensome transaction costs that do not allow us to make the kinds of rational decisions we have to make in order to protect ourselves.”
Until recently, DHS had been reluctant to limit product liability for many research and development companies that manufacture antiterror technology, Chamber of Commerce Vice President Andrew Howell told The Associated Press.
But since January, top department officials “have stepped in and broken the logjam,” Howell says.
“We’re looking more comprehensively at what we can do to make the SAFETY Act program efficient and hospitable, to do the job that Congress intended it to do, which is to create limited liability protection and some safe harbor for those entities that are creating the Homeland security solutions of the 21st century,” Chertoff says. “And doing it in a way that’s careful but also efficient and embraces the new technology as opposed to pushing it away by setting unduly high barriers.”
Debate over liability protections has focused recently on legislation to shield manufacturers of bioterrorism vaccines.
The drug industry supports the legislation, but trial lawyers vigorously oppose the bill, which they contend would take rights away from victims.