September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Congressional Record Senate Airline Safety; October 31, 2001

AIRLINE SAFETY -- (Senate - October 31, 2001)

[Page: S11280]


Mr. HOLLINGS. Madam President, we are fiddling while Rome burns. The headline in this morning's Washington Post, ``Airport Security Crackdown Ordered,'' particularly galls this Senator. I have been with the FAA since its creation. I have been on the Commerce Committee for right at 35 years. I worked with the old Civil Aeronautics Board. We tried our best to get this entity in ship shape over many years.

It was only the year before last that we finally got the monies that should have gone to airport safety and improvement to go to airport safety and improvement.

We had, in 1988, Pan Am 103. We had extensive hearings. And what did we come up with? What we came up with is exactly what they write in the editorial here, that what we really need is more training and more supervision--``help wanted.'' And then we had further hijackings.

We had the TWA Flight 800 in 1996, and we had further hearings. We had the Gore commission. What did they recommend? The same old, same old of more training and more supervision, more oversight. Got to get stern about this. Crackdowns.

Last year, we passed the FAA authorization bill. And what did we call for? We called for more supervision, more training, and then 5,000 people were killed. And we have folks over on the House side, most respectfully, who do not understand that we have lost these 5,000. Terrorists came along with cardboard knives and committed mass murder, and everything else like that, but they say don't worry about what happened on 9-11.

What happened just this last week? Last week, a man boarded a plane with a pistol down in New Orleans. The individual remembered he had the gun and said: Oh, my heavens. Then he turned it over to the airline crew, or otherwise. And the same airline security firm that was fined last year in Philadelphia for hiring criminals is still hiring criminals.

The Senate reacted. We got together. We had hearings. We had the airline pilots, the airline crews, the assistants, the airline executives--everyone connected--and they endorsed the approach of federalization; that this was a public safety role, need and responsibility. This coalition determined resolutely that we could not toy with this anymore after that tremendous loss on 9-11 and continue to play games with more oversight and more supervision and more training.

And ordering crackdowns: Can you imagine that, ordering a crackdown 7 weeks afterwards? Why not that afternoon, that night, or the next morning? A crackdown? Oh, no, they had to think of the airlines first, while the airlines themselves are begging for safety because they realize that ensuring passenger safety is essential to reviving the industry. The Senate passed our bill 100-zip; every Republican, every Democrat voted for it. Our measure is, more than anything, an airline stimulus bill.

Americans are not going to get on these planes as long as there is fear, and we have the insecurity that we have. They are not going to get on the planes as long as they have U.S. Air Force planes flying over them ready to shoot them down.

With our bill that stops immediately. Once you secure that cockpit door, not to be opened in flight, there is no reason for hijackings because you can't.

All you can do is start a fight in the cabin, knowing that the order to the pilot is to land at the nearest airport where law enforcement is going to be there and you are going to prison. That is the Israeli El Al approach. We outlined it. We provided the diagram for the El Al plan that I still have. If I had time this morning, I would show it. It is a perimeter defense. In 30 years El Al has not had a hijacking.

Don't talk to me about European private airport security. Sure, European security personnel is better paid because all the European folks are supported for retirement and health care. These minimum wage folks have no retirement, no health care, no security, no anything. And the security firms are worried that they may quit. They all are quitting. That has been the experience at the Hartsfield airport in Atlanta. There has been over 400-percent turnover there. They don't stay there longer than 3 months.

Yet the opposition to real airport security has stories going around. The reason I came to the floor is to again bring attention to the commonsensical, thorough, and bipartisan fashion with which the Senate approached airline security. They are still talking about the Democratic bill on the House side. You can't get it any more bipartisan unless we are going to let the pages vote. Maybe we ought to do that. I mean, can't we get the truth to the American people that we are ready, willing, able, and glad to pay for it, $2.50 per flight? The polls show people would be willing to pay $25 added to a ticket, glad to do it. But we can take care of it with $2.50 so there is no question about being paid for.

The fundamentals of safety have to be hammered home to our colleagues on the House side. We are not playing games anymore. Noone wants to contract out the FBI. I wonder what the President wants? We were told a month ago that the President would go along with our bill. We felt absolutely secure. But they have some political machinations going on over there with Mr. ARMEY and Mr. DELAY. And Mr. ARMEY says: I don't want them all to join a union. Well, they all can join the unions under the private contractor. In fact, a third of them have. The reason the other two-thirds have not, is they can't read the application in order to join. They are refugees and immigrants. The application is in English. Go ahead to the airports. I go through there regularly, almost every week. They just cannot speak the language. That is no fault of their own. They are getting what jobs they can. But we can't do this with Americans' and the airline travelers' safety at risk.

We would not contract out the Capitol Police or the Border Patrol or the Secret Service or the FBI or defense. What is the matter with the Government? You just heard about a bill--all the defense workers at the Charleston naval shipyard, all the ``navalees'' belong to a union. You just heard the majority leader talk about laying down to conservative interests. I am not talking pro-union or anti-union. I am saying federal public safety officers cannot strike and they can be fired. This particular Senator supported President Reagan when he had to take that approach with the airline pilots. But we fiddle while Rome burns.

Would we ever not just contract out? Would we ever give our safety to foreign corporations? Can you imagine taking the defense and contracting it out, or the FBI, to the Swedish company or the Secret Service to the Netherlands company? These are the firms responsible for airline security now. The airlines get the lowest bidder, and they couldn't care less.

That English company, they were fined for hiring criminals

and falsifying their background checks. And since the time of the court fines, they have continued to hire criminals and not give the background checks. Yet they say: Well, let's see what they want. Let's get flexibility. You aren't going to have flexibility with the FBI or Secret Service or the Capitol Police. There is not flexibility. It is safety. That is what they have to understand over there, that we are not going to give it to the foreign companies.

We are not going to have the momentary safety checks or the European system. We are going to have the El Al, the Israeli system that has worked, proof positive, for 30 years. Once you secure that cockpit and they know there can't be a hijacking, you can take all these F-15s and F-16s and National Guard reserves that are flying all night long over Washington and New York and wherever and say: Save the money and save the time. Let them go back to their work. There is not going to be a hijacking. There is not going to be a plane shot down. If there is an attempted hijacking, it is down to the first landing and on to jail. That is where they are headed. They know that. So our terrorist adversaries will find some other way, like the mail and anthrax, but not the airlines.

[Page: S11281]

Security has to be comprehensive. Under El Al, they check thoroughly and rotate the screeners from the boarding gates, to the tarmac and to cleaning out the aisles.

I flew out of Dulles last week. And what do you do? You get seat 9A. So I can call out to my friend who has been working on the tarmac for the last 2 years who is in cahoots with me as a terrorist. I say: Paste a pistol underneath seat 9A, loaded. I get on. I got through all the screeners and everything else. And afterwards, they wonder why, because you have to have the same kind of security on the tarmac. You have to have the same security for the people who cater. You have to have the same security with the people who clean. This is a safety/security responsibility and not a game of playing around on whether they are going to join a union or not.

A third of airline security workers join unions now and have the right to strike. Yes, they can join our union, but they can't strike and they can be fired.

On contracting out, 669,000 civilian personnel work in our defense forces and at the Pentagon. Some of them were lost on September 11. Give us a Senate bill or something very similar to it because that is the overwhelming sentiment. The captain of the airline pilots appeared with us again yesterday and said: Please pass the Senate version so we can get on and move with it and get the cockpit doors secured, get thorough background checks, and then be ready, willing, and able to give the watch list to the screeners so they will know what to look for.

At the present time, you wouldn't give the watch list to these foreign companies, agents at minimum wage. You wouldn't give it to them. You would try to keep that security knowledge to yourself and send somebody out. If I had a watch list and was trying, I would have an FBI agent at the likely airports where they may board, but I wouldn't give it to the present screeners. We have to clean that out entirely and come down to the reality that this is totally bipartisan. It is not in the sense of trying to be pro-labor or anti-union, pro-Democrat or pro-Republican, or anything else like that.

We have finally learned at least one lesson from 9-11--that we can't play around any longer with airline security. We have to get on with it and not fiddle here some 7 weeks as ``Rome" burns, and we wonder what to do and put all this political pressure on to change the folks around and not bring it up and not allow them to vote common sense.

I yield the floor.


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