November 19, 2001
The Feds at the Airport
After a few weeks of trivial arguments between congressional Republicans and Democrats, Congress voted last Friday to pass a very bad aviation bill that vastly expands the scope of the federal government. The two parties really had very little to argue about, as the only real issue was whether airport security would be fully nationalized sooner or later. Sadly, only a handful of Republicans (and no Democrats) abided by the Constitution and opposed this latest federal power grab. The bill grants the airlines billions of taxpayer dollars in new subsidies, imposes new taxes on travelers, and rewards the federal unions by creating thousands of new government jobs. What the bill does not do, however, is create innovative approaches to safety in the sky.
A constituent of mine who happens to be an airline pilot put his opposition to federalized airport security quite succinctly: "I don't want the same people who bring me the IRS and the ATF to be in charge of airport security." In other words, federal agencies are not exactly known for their efficiency and excellence, to put it mildly. So why are we convinced that a federal takeover of airport security is such a good idea? I have spoken to many commercial pilots since the events of September 11th, and hundreds more have called, written, and emailed my office. I can assure you that not one agreed that airport security should be federalized. These men and women spend their working lives in airports and in the air; they are more vulnerable than any of us to terrorist hijackings. We should listen to their ideas about airport security before we let Congress create a massive new federal bureaucracy.
Remember, several federal agencies failed to prevent the September 11th attacks, including the FBI, CIA, and FAA. Now Congress wants to pour billions into the creation of a new federal workforce at airports. No doubt the federal union bosses are excited at the prospect of thousands of new members, but there is no reason to believe that an expansion of the Transportation department will produce better results. The pattern is always the same: government agencies fail to do their job, yet those same failed agencies are given more money and personnel when things go wrong.
Congress should be privatizing rather than nationalizing airport security. The free market can and does produce excellent security in many industries (including most European airports). Many security-intensive industries do an outstanding job of maintaining safety without depending on federal agencies. Nuclear power plants, chemical plants, oil refineries, and armored money transport companies all employ private security forces that operate very effectively. No government agency will ever care about the bottom-line security and profitability of the airlines more than the airlines themselves. Airlines cannot make money if travelers and flight crews are afraid to fly, and in a free market they would drastically change security measures to prevent future tragedies. In the current regulatory environment, however, the airlines prefer to relinquish all responsibility for security to the government, so that they cannot be held accountable for lapses in the future.
I'm happy to report one small victory in the aviation bill, however. Legislation I introduced to allow the arming of pilots was included in the final version (despite the efforts of anti-gun forces in both the House and Senate). I plan to closely monitor the Transportation department to insure it moves forward with programs certifying pilots to carry firearms.