Partners - Stock market, economic and political commentary by Patricia Chadwick

Federalize airport security

Two airport security events struck me on my trip to Florida this past weekend. Firstly, the x-ray scanner at LaGuardia Airport detected a small nail clipper in my cosmetic case and the security staff gave me the option of checking it in (which meant going back through the long check-in line) or of giving it up immediately and buying a replacement later. That was an easy decision. Why not help out the economy a bit and avoid a hassle?

In Orlando airport on the way home, I boarded a Delta Airline flight without a single soul looking at my driver’s license. At both airports there was ample evidence of increased security in the form of both the police and military personnel. However, there was no evidence of increased security on the plane itself. Somehow I was awaiting a reassuring pilot’s voice announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, you will be pleased to know that there are two burly armed marshals aboard our flight.” Unfortunately, no such message was forthcoming.

As a republican and an ardent proponent of reducing the bloat of our federal government, I find it eminently logical and entirely appropriate to look to the federal government to provide for the security of our airports, airplanes and the traveling public. If there is one function we can all agree is awarded by the constitution to the federal government, it is interstate and international traffic of all kinds. Most particularly, given the fact that we are at war against terrorism and its perpetrators, we can certainly expect that we are now more at risk for terrorist activity.

Taking issue with Jonathan Klick’s (National Review Online – 10/11/01) angst over adding “tens of thousands of people to the federal payroll …. cost(ing) nearly $2 billion”, I argue that we need not federalize existing civilian, private sector employees engaged in airport security. Rather, the government ought to deploy active military personnel to replace the private sector workers.

The U.S. had, at yearend 2000, 1,384,338 active duty military personnel. The vast majority of these men and women are stationed on military bases all over this country. So why not simply have well-trained military personnel replace all the private sector employees currently responsible for operating the scanning equipment? Additionally, they should be stationed visibly (and invisibly) at all our airports, overseeing security both inside the terminals and in the baggage and fueling areas. Given the fact that these men and women are already on the federal payroll, the incremental cost to the taxpayer – for transportation and housing logistics — would be a relatively small burden. The approximately 30,000 to 50,000 people needed for such security purposes would entail only 2.5 – 3.5of our active military personnel.

Facing a significant overseas travel schedule, I find it reassuring and comforting to see military and police forces operating the security in so many airports around the globe. The power to apprehend has the potential of putting some element of fear into would-be criminals and greatly complicating their planning.

Klick’s argument that federalizing security would be taxing “fliers and non-fliers alike ….to provide a service that primarily benefits the first group” fails to account for the fact that it is not just the flying public that is served by increased security, but an entire industry which is an important linchpin of our economy. The business of America is business and business people need to fly. Phone calls and teleconferencing can replace only so much travel. And, importantly, non-fliers are the beneficiaries of the business fliers whose trips are tied to economic growth and prosperity. Even if I never flew on an airplane, I would be extremely willing to be taxed to ensure that my family and loved ones could travel safely in the air.

I am the first to admit that so much of what is regulated at the federal level is bureaucratically mismanaged. However, the safety of the American people and the security of our air transportation during this time of war warrant federal, military oversight, management and responsibility.

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