Fourteen Years and Counting
By Capt. Duane Woerth
This issue of our newsletter covering ALPA’s efforts to improve aviation security details our continuing work on several fronts—from lobbying on Capitol Hill, checking on criminal history background checks, trying to close the holes in cargo security, taking ALPA’s positions to news reporters, and striving to regain jumpseat reciprocity, to smoothing out security screening and arming the cockpit. ALPA’s National Officers, pilot volunteers, and staff have been busy.
But while much of the public and congressional attention has been focused on issues related to arming airline cockpits, one of the most frustrating situations for us has been the continuation of the 14-year delay in getting a smart-card universal access system installed at U.S. airline airports.
On June 6, President Bush announced his plans to create a huge new cabinet department within the Executive Branch of the federal government—a Department of Homeland Security. The new department, which would employ an estimated 170,000 federal workers—more people than any other cabinet department except the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs—would absorb many other government agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) created within the Department of Transportation last fall.
President Bush’s proposal to reorganize homeland security, while undoubtedly fundamentally sound for the long term, causes those of us in aviation some additional short-term problems.
Even with the TSA currently inside the Department of Transportation, the new security agency has bogged down and seems unable to produce timely decisions and work products for aviation.
When I served on Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta’s Rapid Response Team last fall, we achieved a unanimous recommendation for electronic smart cards with biometric chips for all airline employees. Absolutely no objections or naysayers surfaced to oppose the idea.
Furthermore, as you know, the smart card approved for law enforcement officers to use at U.S. airports was also approved for use by airline pilots before the September 11 terrorist attacks.
ALPA’s National Security Committee has been fighting since 1988 for a universal access system—what the TSA is now calling the Transportation Worker Identification Card, or TWIC—that positively identifies and controls the access of airline, airport, and other employees who are authorized to enter airport secure areas. Transient flight and cabin crews and other employees could use such cards—not only at their domicile airport, but at all U.S. and Canadian airports—to avoid the current nightmare of lengthy, sometimes demeaning, often arbitrary screening they must undergo at airport security screening checkpoints.
Yet the TSA, which professes to be solidly in favor of these programs, is reinventing the wheel and is unwilling to commit to a timeline for full implementation. We cannot abide further institutional paralysis.
The same day that President Bush was unveiling his proposal to create a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, I spoke to the Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C. I also will be a featured speaker on June 17 at an aviation security conference sponsored by the Israelis. In both cases, I’m explaining that continued delay of this proven security enhancement of electronic smart cards is unacceptable.
I fear that the bureaucratic turf war of all the affected parties inside the new proposed Department of Homeland Security could prove so distracting throughout the summer that no key decisions will be made. Aviation must not be held hostage to the needs and demands of other modes of transportation—railroads, trucking, pipelines, and maritime shipping.
I’m asking each of you to remind the senior management of your airline that this issue of universal access should be as important to them as it is to us and that they need to invest more political capital, along with us, to make it happen.