Airport security demands a strong, new approach

Airport security firms are rushing to increase the wages they pay the men and women who operate security checkpoints at the nation's airport.
It is too little, too late.
The obvious need for a higher level of security in the wake of the September 11 hijackings goes beyond upgrading security workers from the near-minimum wage level in effect for years.
Slow down: For some people in Congress and out, the answer is to federalize the entire service. That, we believe, would be going too far.
An almost-instant bureaucracy of some 30,000 new federal employees would not ensure the safety of the American air traveler. After all, the Border Patrol is a federalized force, yet illegal immigrants still manage to get across the border.
Anyone who ever boarded an airplane had to wonder at times about the training and professionalism of the work force at airport security checkpoints, but few knew how bad the situation was. The average pay for baggage checkers was $6 an hour, less than a dollar above the federal minimum wage of $5.15, and the annual turnover rate at some airports was more than 100 percent.
In makes little sense to pay an airline pilot $200,000 a year when the gatekeepers are being paid $50 a day and leaving their jobs almost as often as airplanes lift off from the tarmac.
Airport security workers need better pay, better training and better oversight But that can be done without making them federal employees.
Suggested answer: What is needed is more federal oversight, and not necessarily by the Federal Aviation Administration. In fact, our first choice would be to put the U.S. Coast Guard in charge.
Let the Coast Guard, with its military tradition and proud history of protecting the nation's shores, write the standards for training, testing and evaluating airport security personnel.
The Coast Guard has experience in developing strategic plans for inspecting large and small ships in port, for patrolling the nation's coasts by sea and air in search of smugglers and vessels in distress and for protecting the seas against the environmental hazards of shipping, to name just a few of the service's resonsibilities.
It should be able to transfer its expertise to the task of airport security and develop a curriculum for training security specialists at the Coast Guard Academy.
We do not suggest a whole new realm of responsibilities for an established arm of the military lightly, but we believe that airport security requires oversight far above that it receives now and above the level that the FAA could give it in the future.
The Coast Guard would provide strong, independent oversight that would help airline passengers feel secure for generations to come.