John Stossel: Federalizing Airports

ByABC News
October 24, 2001, 1:49 PM

Oct. 24 -- Since Sept. 11, there has been lots of criticism of airport security. We all want to make flying safe, but I get nervous when 100 senators say, "We know the solution: Let government run things."

"If you don't have federalism, it doesn't work," said Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

"You can't professionalize unless you federalize," agreed Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

In a 100-0 vote, the Senate passed a security bill that would put all 28,000 screeners and other airport security personnel on the federal payroll.

A similar bill is being sponsored in the House, with Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., calling it "a matter of life and death."

Most travelers we interviewed at an airport agreed that government should run airport security.

"When the federal [government] gets involved, it's a good deal," said one man.

"I would feel safer, yes I would," said another.

It sounds right: Got a problem? Professionalize it. Bring in the government.

But wait a second. If you want efficiency and professionalism, is bringing in a big-government bureaucracy really the way to go?

The biggest professional federal agency outside the military is the U.S. Postal Service. Even with taxpayer subsidies, it cannot compete efficiently with private companies like United Parcel Service and Federal Express.

Government-run organizations don't always have the best track record.

Sept. 11: Government Failed

Politicians are outraged that airlines hired screeners who turned out to be ex-convicts, but a government study found that 150 of the IRS' seasonal workers had criminal records.

And how much do we know about the gun-carrying National Guardsmen now patrolling airports? Arizona discovered one was a felon who had been selling phony weapons permits. He passed the background check, which was performed through government law enforcement agencies. He was caught only because someone watching the soldiers on television recognized him.

The current screening system is far from perfect, but there is no evidence that on Sept. 11 airport screeners did anything wrong. Knives the size the hijackers apparently used were legal under government rules. It was government that failed. Customs and INS officials let the hijackers into the country even though three had expired visas. Six had no records. Yet now we're going to give the government more power?