Bush outlines plan to boost airport security
Key House Democrat says it doesn't go far enough
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- President Bush called on U.S. governors Thursday to mobilize the National Guard to help boost security at the nation's airports until tighter measures can be put in place.
During a rally at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, Bush outlined a series of new efforts, including increasing the number of air marshals aboard flights and giving the federal government a greater role in airport security.
"One of the government's goals is to restore confidence in the airline industry," Bush told the crowd. "We must address the issue of airline safety in smart and constructive way."
Bush proposed a $500 million fund to protect cockpits, calling for the airlines to fortify cockpit doors, restrict opening them during flight, and keep the cockpit crew apprised of activity in the cabin.
The multimillion-dollar fund -- provided through grants and cost-sharing arrangements with other projects -- will pay for aircraft modifications.
New federal duties would include supervising passenger and baggage security, performing background checks and training screeners and other security personnel.
Other duties would include purchase and control of all equipment and oversight of security patrols.
Although it wants a larger federal presence at security checkpoints, especially at major airports, the administration reportedly does not favor making this a full federal responsibility.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, accompanied Bush in Chicago as a show of bipartisan support.
But a key House Democrat said Bush's proposal does not go far enough toward putting the federal government in charge of security screening at airports.
Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, criticized Bush for failing to call specifically for federal employees to handle security screening.
"This nation has been at war," Oberstar said. "Airlines are the frontline of that war. We wouldn't think of contracting out our Army to protect us against an open foreign invasion. We shouldn't think of contracting out responsibility of defending the internal United States against covert attacks."
The Federal Aviation Administration can act on some of the Bush proposals, but others would require congressional action.
The president's proposal for a broad-based federal air marshal program would offer substantial if not complete coverage of commercial flights.
The administration already is borrowing agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Naturalization Service and other federal agencies to serve temporarily as air marshals while others are hired and trained for this role.
Among the cockpit-related measures, Bush backs installation of stronger, secure cockpit doors.
The FAA already has ordered immediate cockpit security improvements, and the administration's proposal envisions additional short-term steps, such as security bars and other access barriers, during the phase-in period for the fortified doors.
The administration remains firmly opposed to the idea of letting pilots carry handguns into the cockpit.
The Air Transport Association, which represents the major U.S. airlines, applauded Bush's announcement and said it would work closely with the government to implement his proposals.
"It is paramount that public confidence be restored," said ATA President and CEO Carol Hallett.
Pilots also welcome the announcement but said it's only the "tip of the iceberg."
The Air Line Pilots Association endorses federalizing the passenger-screening process, along with other security responsibilities.
But it said in a statement Thursday the job should be given not to the FAA but to an agency that focuses on security and law enforcement.
Kathy Sudeikis, vice president of the American Society of Travel Agents, said she found the proposal encouraging, particularly the idea of an increased federal role in airport security.
"I would say that the travel agents community believes this is absolutely the first step that needs to be taken to assure people that it's safe to be flying," she said.
-- CNN White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.
Federal Aviation Administration
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
Immigration and Naturalization Service
Air Line Pilots Association
American Society of Travel Agents
Air Transport Association
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