'Federalizing security' at airports is worth attention, Emerson

Saturday, September 29, 2001

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson says the federal government needs a larger role in airport security even if it means putting 14,000 to 20,000 baggage checkers and security officers on the payroll.

"I don't have a problem with federalizing security," she told a crowd of 40 small-business owners and operators on Friday at a National Federation of Independent Business breakfast meeting at the Holiday Inn.

The Cape Girardeau Republican said she wouldn't normally favor expanding the federal government. But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast that involved hijacked airliners and killed thousands warrant such a response, she said.

"I am so concerned about security, I can live with it," Emerson said.

The congresswoman doesn't believe President Bush wants to federalize all airport security personnel. Even if that doesn't occur, Emerson said it's clear the federal government will supervise the work.

The terrorist attacks disclosed woeful security at the nation's airports, she said.

The airlines spent little money on security, and personnel were poorly trained and paid minimum wage, she said. Emerson also complained that the airlines did a poor job of background checks on such employees.

At Washington's Dulles Airport, 80 percent of private security personnel aren't American citizens and at least a fourth of them are illegal aliens, she said, citing testimony at a Sept. 20 congressional hearing she attended on aviation security.

If the federal government starts hiring security officers, they will have to be American citizens, Emerson said.

Relying on private security doesn't appear to be an option. Emerson said the Federal Aviation Administration has reported that the airlines aren't willing to pay more for security.

Since the terrorist attacks, there has been tighter security at airports nationwide. Emerson said she saw it first-hand last week at the St. Louis airport when security personnel confiscated her tweezers and cuticle cutters before she boarded a flight.

"You cannot transport those sharp objects," she said.

In answer to a question from the audience, Emerson said she doesn't know the nation's military plans and hopes the Bush administration keeps such plans secret to avoid alerting Osama bin Laden's terrorist group in Afghanistan.

"I would hope our administration is smart enough to give misinformation to the media," she said. "We don't need a detailed accounting of when, where, how and who."

To do so, she said, would put American soldiers in harm's way.


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