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A compromise to security, on the House

In a bold affront to the mandates of intelligence, the House last week passed a compromise bill on federalizing airport security. And this was only three days after a man walked casually through security checks in O’Hare airport carrying a bag loaded with an assortment of weapons and knives.

The Bush II-supported House bill grants the president (imagine that!) the authority to federalize particular positions and passed by a significant margin Tuesday, Nov. 6. Called the Secure Transportation for America Act, the bill split Oregon Democrats down the middle. Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio voted against the halfway initiative, while David Wu, Darlene Hooley and Republican Greg Walden voted in favor.

A similar bill fully federalizing airport security passed unanimously in the Senate in mid-October.

With both versions passed, now begins the struggle to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions.

The House compromise version is what the term suggests – a compromise of national security. Some of the private contractors policing our airports could legitimately be called criminals and locked up. And not simply by a ragtag columnist but by Attorney General Ashcroft, who charged that Argenbright security was guilty of “an astonishing pattern of crimes.” On top of this, one Argenbright supervisor faced federal convictions for purposely avoiding background checks in Philadelphia. And Argenbright has been charged with illegally threatening workers for exercising their right to protest the minimum wage pittance paid by the company.

The list of offenses goes on. Most regrettably, Argenbright was one of the companies operating the checkpoints through which terrorists passed on Sept. 11.

Supporters of the House bill point to changes within contractors, such as Argenbright. Just this week, the company put in place a new executive and promised sweeping reform. Federalized airport security, they argue, might promote less accountability and more barriers to change.

Despite Republican/Democrat/conservative arguments concerning the merits of federalized airport security, the reality of the matter is that reform of private contractors is impossible. Consider: Argenbright is proposing reforms that will cost a great deal of money. With the severe financial trouble that the airlines are facing, how can anyone expect them to pay for increased security? Promises are nice, but in this case they are as practicable as Argenbright is innocent.

Secondly, even if airlines were not in dire economic straits, why should we place our faith in them to hire good contractors? Airlines themselves are simply unable to worry about security in airports. So, we leave it up to good faith that contractors will conduct themselves properly? We made this mistake once. Nothing else need be said. So, if we follow the House argument and sink lots of money into monitoring airport security, then aren’t we basically acknowledging that the federal government is the best guarantor of security in the first place?

Third, if we do agree that the federal government is the best assurance of proper airport security (and we do – after all, Air Force One is not secured by private minimum wage laborers), then how can we possibly say that there should be any private airport security? Are some airports more important than others? Do small planes not pose a threat?

If we agree that airplanes are now an issue of national security, and if we further agree that federal operation is the best means of ensuring security, then the only solution is full airport federalization. The fact that the House of Representatives can, at this point in time, jeopardize national security by sanctioning criminals (as Ashcroft himself claimed) to police our airports in any number, is preposterous.

Apparently, House Representatives have little confidence in the intelligence of the electorate they are accountable to.