Monday, November 05, 2001


Glenn (Instapundit) Reynolds finally sees the light, and shouts to the rooftops: FEDERALIZE AIRPORT SECURITY: But only if the security people can't unionize and can be fired immediately if they screw up. Not willing to go that far? Then you're not serious about security -- you just want more federal employees.

Meanwhile, Josh (Talking Points) Marshall reports on the swift release (since rescinded) of Subash Gurung, who tried to take a stun gun, mace and a slew of knives onto a flight leaving Chicago over the weekend. But Josh skips over the aftermath of the original story: United Airlines immediately fired at least seven people, including security screeners and a supervisor, after the weapons' discovery.

Having myself worked for both New York City and State agencies in the distant past, I've witnessed first-hand how difficult it is to fire the truly incompetent from a unionized civil service job, especially -- as is statistically likely, given the demographics of the civil service -- whenever the truly incompetent also happen to be nonwhite. (Oh, the stories I could tell!)

Agreed -- absolutely! -- that a Federal Airport Security Cops Corps MUST have the flexibility to discipline and summarily fire. And if the compromise required to create such a body is that it must not be unionized, so be it.

On the other hand, United Airlines' disciplinary action seems unduly harsh, since their screeners did, after all, catch two of Gurung's knives at a security checkpoint and discovered the rest of his armaments in a routine search of his carry-on luggage. In other words, the multiple-tiered screening system worked! I need to see more details [UPDATE: CNN has the details here], but it sounds as if some of the fired screeners have been made into public scapegoats on the premise that they failed to catch all of Gurung's weapons at the first checkpoint -- even though they may well have been following their established (if obviously inadequate) procedures to the letter. Surely anyone fired under such circumstances deserves some form of grievance hearing -- if not through a union, than by some mechanism less brutally expensive than litigation!

The oft-stated reason for federalizing airport security is simple and fundamentally true: Government must intervene wherever ordinary market forces work against the public interest. This is precisely the dynamic at work here. Left to their own devices, our private-sector airlines -- most of which are now battling for their very survival -- will continue to pay minimum-wage or low-bid rates for untrained, unchecked, unmotivated rent-a-cops. If Congress simply passes unfunded mandates to dictate improved quality control, the airlines will cut corners elsewhere. (Fewer safety inspections, anyone?)

To the Tom DeLays of the world, who would obstruct the swift establishment of a Federal Airport Cops Corps solely on grounds that Enlarging the Federal Payroll is Always a Bad Idea, I would ask this: What, exactly, is wrong in principle with an elite force of nonunionized federal employees answerable to a central command structure under a single, rigid set of performance standards -- with swift and severe consequences for failure to perform, but with some manner of recourse or appeal in case of unwarranted disciplinary action?

There is already a precedent for hiring federal employees under such terms. And if he's going to be intellectually consistent, DeLay ought to be at the forefront of obstructing all Defense funding because we haven't privatized the U.S. Army!


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