The Gore Commission Demanded Tougher Airline Security, But Airlines And Conservatives Said No
"The federal government should consider aviation security as a national security issue, and provide substantial funding for capital improvements. The Commission believes that terrorist attacks on civil aviation are directed at the United States, and that there should be an ongoing federal commitment to reducing the threats that they pose."
Gore Commission final report, February 12, 1997
On July 25, 1996, shortly after the crash of TWA flight 800, President Clinton asked Vice President Gore to chair a commission on improving air transportation safety. As a result, the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, commonly known as the Gore Commission, conducted an in-depth analysis of the U.S. commercial airlines' safeguards against terrorist attacks. In its final report, the Gore Commission found that security measures used by U.S. airlines were extremely inadequate, and made over fifty recommendations to improve security.
Among the changes suggested by the Gore Commission were:
3.1. The federal government should consider aviation
security as a national security issue, and provide
substantial funding for capital improvements.
The Commission believes that terrorist attacks on
civil aviation are directed at the United States, and
that there should be an ongoing federal commitment to
reducing the threats that they pose. In its initial
report, the Commission called for approximately $160
million in federal funds for capital costs associated
with improving security, and Congress agreed. As part
of its ongoing commitment, the federal government
should devote significant resources, of approximately
$100 million annually, to meet capital requirements
identified by airport consortia and the FAA. The
Commission recognizes that more is needed. The
Commission expects the National Civil Aviation Review
Commission to consider a variety of options for
additional user fees that could be used to pay for
security measures including, among others, an aviation
user security surcharge, the imposition of local
security fees, tax incentives and other means.
3.2. The FAA should establish federally mandated standards for security enhancements. These enhancements should include standards for use of Explosive Detection System (EDS) machines, training programs for security personnel, use of automated bag match technology, development of profiling programs (manual and automated), and deployment of explosive detection canine teams.
3.7. The FAA should work with airlines and airport consortia to ensure that all passengers are positively identified and subjected to security procedures before they board aircraft.
Curb-side check-in, electronic ticketing, advance boarding passes, and other initiatives are affecting the way passengers enter the air transportation system. As improved security procedures are put into place, it is essential that all passengers be accounted for in that system, properly identified and subject to the same level of scrutiny. The Commission urges the FAA to work with airlines and airport consortia to ensure that necessary changes are made to accomplish that goal.
3.8. Submit a proposed resolution, through the U.S. Representative, that the International Civil Aviation Organization begin a program to verify and improve compliance with international security standards.
Although 185 nations have ratified the International Civil Aviation Organization convention, and the security standards contained in it, compliance is not uniform. This creates the potential for security vulnerabilities on connecting flights throughout the world. To help raise levels of security throughout the world, the International Civil Aviation Organization needs greater authority to determine whether nations are in compliance. Strong U.S. sponsorship for adding verification and compliance capabilities to the International Civil Aviation Organization could lead to enhanced worldwide aviation security.
3.10. The FAA should work with industry to develop a national program to increase the professionalism of the aviation security workforce, including screening personnel.
The Commission believes it's critical to ensure that those charged with providing security for over 500 million passengers a year in the United States are the best qualified and trained in the industry. One proposal that could accomplish this goal is the creation of a nationwide non-profit security corporation, funded by the airlines, to handle airport security. This concept, under consideration by the major airlines, merits further review.
The Commission recommends that the FAA work with the private sector and other federal agencies to promote the professionalism of security personnel through a program that could include: licensing and performance standards that reflect best practices; adequate, common and recurrent training that considers human factors; emphasis on reducing turnover rates; rewards for performance; opportunities for advancement; a national rank and grade structure to permit employees to find opportunities in other areas; regional and national competitions to identify highly skilled teams; and, an agreement among users to hire based on performance, not just cost.
3.11 Access to airport controlled areas must be secured and the physical security of aircraft must be ensured.
Air carriers and airport authorities, working with FAA, must develop comprehensive and effective means by which to secure aircraft and other controlled areas from unauthorized access and intrusion. Use of radio frequency transponders to track the location of people and objects in airport controlled areas, including aircraft, offers significant advantages over the current security measures commonly used today. Where adequate airport controlled area and aircraft security are not assured by other means, this technology should be considered for use at both international and domestic airports.
(Gore Commission final report, February 12, 1997)
The Gore Commission estimated the eventual cost of implementing all of its recommendations would be between $2.5 billion and $8 billion (the final cost would have depended on which technologies were used). This figure was in line with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates and was confirmed by a separate assessment by the General Accounting Office (GAO), which oversees federal government spending.
But the airline industry was not concerned about possible terrorist attacks. TWA spokesman John McDonald was quoted in a 1996 Newsday article as saying: "TWA last year carried 21 million people and we didn't have a single plane blown out of the sky by someone who carried a bomb on the plane through security… I don't see it as an issue. The reality is, it hasn't occurred."
And the airlines made sure their views on costly anti-terrorism regulations were heard on Capital Hill. The industry had contributed to the 1995-96 campaigns of 10 of the 12 members on the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation - - the committee that funds the FAA. The Senate Aviation Subcommittee had similar ties to the airline industry: eight of nine Republican senators serving on that subcommittee in 1996 had received airline PAC contributions; only one of the eight Democrats on that subcommittee did.
As soon as the Gore Commission report was finished, the airline industry rushed to label its findings as partisan. The day after the final report was published, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association fought back with a legislative action that claimed the Gore Commission existed simply to thwart the will of the Republican Congress:
AOPA Legislative Action says Gore Commission user fee proposal oversteps mandate, ignores Congress
Not surprisingly, the conservative press joined the airline industry in attacking the Gore Commission report. Most of the arguments advanced by the right focused on the "cost effectiveness" of implementing the recommendations. Susan Ellingwood's article in the March 10, 1997 edition of the New Republic entitled "Hot Air" is typical of the conservative response to the Gore Commission:
February 13 -- AOPA Legislative Action says the Gore Commission overstepped its mandate and ignored Congress by recommending the imposition of direct aviation user fees. The final report of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security (Gore Commission) was released February 12.
"The Commission inappropriately seeks to influence the very controversial debate on FAA financing alternatives. The report dovetails much too conveniently with the Administration's budget request," said Tom Chapman, AOPA Legislative Action senior vice president.
"This rubber-stamp of the Administration's budget proposal, which would ultimately impose more than $8 billion in new direct user fees, calls into question the independence and objectivity of the Gore Commission."
On a cost-effective basis, the recommendations simply don't add up. Robert W. Hahn, in a sobering article in the libertarian magazine Regulation titled "the cost of antiterrorist rhetoric," provides a table that looks at the Gore Commission recommendations, the amount requested for each proposal and the projected costs. The Gore Commission estimates that its recommendations would cost $429.4 million. But, according to Hahn, that's too low. Hahn says that "a full passenger-bag match alone will cost $2 billion annually." Actuarial studies, Hahn notes, assume the "implicit value of life for air travelers" to be "between $5 and $15 million." Two billion dollars a year to guard against terrorism and sabotage--a threat which, Hahn notes, is responsible for a grand total of thirty-seven deaths in U.S. planes since 1982--works out to "a cost per life saved of well over $300 million."
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the issue of airline security has been thrown into the spotlight again. Sadly, the Bush Administration appears to be ignoring the work of the Gore Commission. Instead, Transportation secretary Norman Y. Mineta has appointed two separate airline industry task forces to draw up recommendations to combat future terrorist attacks. The members of the first task force (The Airport Security Task Force) are Herb Kelleher, chairman of the board of Southwest Airlines; Raymond Kelly, former U.S. Customs Service commissioner and a former New York City police chief; and Charles Barclay, president of the American Association of Airport Executives. The second task force (The Aircraft Security Task Force) consists of Robert Baker, vice chairman of American Airlines; Robert Davis, a former vice president of the Boeing Co.; and Capt. Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association.
The current Bush Administration has more faith in the airline industry than the previous Bush Administration's Secretary of Transportation, Samuel Skinner. In a September 1996 PBS interview, Skinner claimed that, following the downing of Pan Am flight 103, the airline industry successfully opposed installing hundreds of bomb-detection machines at major airports and running criminal background checks on people with access to sensitive areas. Skinner said: "I don't think there's any question that the airlines decided it was not in their short term best interest to pay for these services in these situations from their own pocket, and so they made a concerted effort to make sure that the airlines didn't have to pay for this and they didn't have to charge passengers for it."