April 9, 2002

“How many of you traveled by airplane prior to September 11,” I asked a classroom of 14 high schoolers. They all raised their hands.

“How many of you have ever crashed in an airplane?” I asked.

No one raised a hand.

“Well, then, how many of you have ever been on a hijacked airplane?”

Again, no one raised a hand.

Given the hyped accusations levied against airport screeners immediately following the attack on the World Trade Center, one would almost assume that terrorists regularly commandeered airplanes and threatened travelers. Pundits and politicians alike insisted the security screening system was flawed, and we could no longer fly in safety.

Yet despite having flown hundreds of thousands of miles, I knew that I had never experienced anything like those tragic travelers of September 11. And neither did thousands of others who traveled on that same day.

In fact, millions of people had regularly flown on American airlines without any incident worse than being served rotten peanuts or losing their luggage.

Actually, the screeners had consistently done exactly what they had been asked to do, and had done it well. As it turns out, none of the 19 men who boarded those ill-fated flights failed the Federal Aviation Administration’s screening standards.

Despite these facts, the drumbeat for federalization dominated the debate.

“We must federalize the screeners,” the drummers demanded. “Private contractors and local authorities—and surely not profit-loving airlines—should not be trusted. Air safety depends on letting the federal government take over!” Rah! Rah!

Congress promised us a swift and successful transition from private employment to federalization at minimal cost—a mere 10 percent ticket tax. Federal agents would hire 30,000 screeners at just more than $1 billion to replace the previously competent screeners who were paid a lot less.

According to Jeff Hamiel, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Airports Commission in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the 30,000 employee target is now projected to be 50,000 or more, and the cost has more than doubled. Hamiel, a 25-year veteran at the MAC, is a nationally respected expert. He knows his stuff. He also believes that local authorities can do the job better and for less cost.

Hamiel agreed with the uninformed, common sense assessment of my high school government class. There was on 9-12, and is no reason now to federalize the security functions at American airports. An increase in the number of his uniformed sworn police officers would have solved the security problem at a fraction of the cost.

Hamiel resents the fact that his 28-year veteran Chief of Police, Tom Welna, who earns about $115,000 a year, is being wooed by the feds to supervise their new agents at Twin Cities International—at more than $200,000 a year—to do less work than he had done before 9-11.

The result of this massive federalization process is expensive blue smoke and mirrors. Airline travelers will be no safer than they were prior to 9-11, but they will pay more.

For good cause, the Founding Fathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence that governments should not be changed for “transient causes.” I believe they saw the writing of legislation in the same light. They believed in a slow, deliberative process. To rush “to do something” results in bad law; law that either costs a lot of money or robs citizens of liberty.

Cong. James Oberstar, D-MN, told Hamiel the weekend following 9-11 that Americans expected Congress to do something to protect air travel. Hamiel felt the best thing Congress could do would be to provide the additional assets he needed to hire more uniformed local cops—not federal cops.

Airline travel may have changed forever following 9-11, but any apparent increase in safety will not be due to federal involvement. They have, however, succeeded in driving up the cost for all the rest of us. That is something, of course, that bureaucrats really do well.

Author - Speaker - teacher

You ever been in a plane crash?

You ever seen a successful bureaucracy?