« PreviousContinue »
quiry when you're speaking to members of the administration you could impress upon them the feelings of the families involved here about the return of personal effects and the seemingly endless delay in getting a response to their request for the return of those items.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. OBERSTAR. I thank the gentleman. You have just done that. They are all out there in the audience listening. You've just made that request. We will emphasize it.
I have met with several groups of the families of the victims of Pan Am 103 and conveyed to administration officials their great concern about those very matters. It has been a source of continuing pain and anguish to them to have to deal with bureaucracy and frustrations in the wake of this senseless and meaningless tragedy.
I appreciate the gentleman's questions about the way in which the warning or the phone call to the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki was handled. That has been a matter of some extensive inquiry by the State Department on their own and at this subcommittee's request. Ambassador McManaway will address that matter in further detail in his testimony shortly.
The process of notification and the issuance of FAA aviation security bulletins to which you addressed your remarks have been a matter of continuing concern. They are the focus of the task force appointed by Secretary of Transportation Skinner to find out what went wrong, why action wasn't taken more decisively and why the warnings were not heeded with greater care and concern. We will take that testimony and receive that information at a later point.
We will make some preliminary inquiries today, but that will be the subject of a very in-depth inquiry by the Department. I think it's an extremely important issue. You were right to raise it, and I appreciate your doing so.
Mr. McNULTY. Mr. Chairman, when I was making those comments, I was referring specifically to those threats that are categories as high level alerts and not every single phone call that's made to someone. I just want to make that clear.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Certainly. That matter will be further reviewed as we proceed with the testimony today.
Mr. McCurdy, with respect to explosive detection technology, and you sit on a very important committee; it has unique jurisdiction over this matter. I know you have devoted a great deal of personal time to it, both in the Science and Technology Committee and in the Intelligence Committee.
A question arises continuously: who should pay? should the cost of providing security continue to be made out of the security tax that has been folded into the aviation ticket tax? Should it come out of general revenues? Should the airlines in some fashion be required to pay for it or airports?
Ultimately, I think the consumer pays whether in ticket tax or through his or her role as a general taxpayer.
Mr. McCURDY. Mr. Chairman, you raise probably, as we said, the key issue here is who will purchase or pay for the installation of this equipment?
As you know and are quite aware, the subcommittee I chair, the Transportation and Aviation Materials Subcommittee and Science
and Space authorized the original research and development funds for that—it's roughly $9 million-that allowed this technology to be developed and to fill the testing. The FAA, of course, had supported that.
You are well aware that this subcommittee with its jurisdiction, and Mr. Mineta's efforts as well, that there is a lot of demand on resources and those funds that are available for purchasing such equipment.
One of the reasons that in my bill we require and direct the administrator to make that determination is to provide him some flexibility and also provide some flexibility to the Congress in how those funds are—whether determined or who's going to actuallywhat pot of money is going to be used.
My personal preference all along has been to use the trust fund, but I have been one of those, I guess, within the numerical minority in this body who thought that that trust fund ought to be separated from and brought out of the budget, so that we could use it for its designated purpose in the first place, which was safety equipment, installation of equipment, and other measures to ensure the safety of the flying public.
But the Congress has spoken and the majority has spoken. In this case the trust fund is not separated from the budget. Therefore, we are always squeezed here in trying to find the funds even though there's a surplus of funds sitting over there in the separate fund. I think that's unfortunate.
We basically finessed it in this bill, to be honest, and are directing the administrator to try to find and direct who best will pay for it and who can do most expeditiously and how it can result in the installation of this equipment.
Mr. OBERSTAR. If we had only had five more votes, or a switch of three votes just a couple of years ago, we would made the difference.
Mr. McCURDY. I see some new votes, Mr. Chairman. There are a number freshmen here this year. I think we may be closer.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Then-Chairman Mineta led the charge to remove the trust fund from the unified budget of the Federal Government, and when we can count to 218 again, we will make that effort once more. I appreciate the gentleman's response and his interest and concern.
A question for both colleagues, very briefly. What has occurred in security over the two phases I described at the outset has been an attempt to balance convenience and security, convenience of the air traveling public. Even now, as we'll learn later on, there is an effort to shorten the time for screening of one of the more advanced detection devices from 30 seconds to 6 seconds or less.
I guess the families of 103 would say, “We don't care what that time is. Take your time.”
What is the proper balance between convenience and security?
Mr. McCURDY. There is no simple answer there, but I think safety is the key. The public has to be aware-as long as the public is unaware of a threat, as long as the public is accustomed to the sheer convenience of being able to rush to the airport at the last minute, get your bags through and get on the airliner and you're
safe, and you're going to get to your destination, then they'll say we want more efficiency.
But once the public realizes that this terrorist threat is for realand I think the flight 103 is the classic example of that threatthey, at least in the international arena, are going to have to sacrifice some of their convenience and time.
The TNA devices are a little slower. It does take more time than the conventional devices used today. But the enhanced security is such that I think the traveling public should welcome that device.
If you fly El Al, for instance, and many of us have, to Israel, they have been under terrorist threat for years, for decades. They tell you, quite frankly, if you're flying on that airline, you have to go a couple of hours early and you're going to be physically searched. Every piece of luggage, every handbag, everything on that airliner is searched physically. That's why they've not had the accidents or the incidents that have plagued other airlines, but that's a tradeoff.
You know full well what the threat is. I think we have to make it clear to the traveling public that there is a threat, that it's not just off in some other country, some other party; they are attacking Americans today; they're attacking American air carriers. As long as we continue to play the role of being involved in foreign policy actively throughout the world, we are going to be a target. I think it's important that the American public be aware of that.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I think it's important we understand we're in for the long haul, that it's not just one incident, but a long period of time.
Mr. McNulty? Mr. McNulty. I would agree with that sentiment generally, Mr. Chairman. I stated in my testimony that until such time as we have deployed the technology to detect the plastic explosives, that I think whenever we think that there's a reasonable threat, that there should be manual searches.
If you're going overseas, Mr. Chairman, the amount of time you're investing in that flight, I don't think too many people would think it would be unreasonable to tack an extra hour or so onto either end of that journey to insure safety.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much. My time has expired.
I would like to just mention that, with respect to the issue of moving the trust fund off budget, this committee was solid in support of it. We didn't lose a member.
Your legislation is very interesting. What is the cost of the TNA system per unit?
Mr. McCURDY. It's less than $1 million per unit. I think Mr. McArtor testified it's about $800,000 for the unit. But the importance there is—and, again, I'm putting my armed services hat on all that is dependent upon the amount of production, what the total buy is going to be, and the quantities produced each year.
If we go out and make a determination that this is the equipment that we're going to actually install, I think the per unit cost will decline over time and actually there may even be some competition developed over time as well.
I think that the technology is proven. It's 95 percent reliable. It's been tested in airports today. The costs will not be that significant if we make a decision and the administrator makes a decision to go ahead and install them.
Mr. MOLINARI. Again, looking at the trust fund, there's some $6 billion in the trust fund today uncommitted. Were we to move aggressively ahead with this program, even at the $800,000 a copy cost-we have some 270 airports—it wouldn't put a great dent in those trust funds.
What is your perception as to why we can't move more aggressively ahead so that we can put in the protection. Ninety-five percent success rate is as good as you're going to get with any system.
Mr. McCURDY. Well, there is still that fundamental question of who pays. Unless the trust fund is deemed subject to this utilization, then we either have to appropriate the moneys directly or the airports themselves or the carriers will have to purchase this equipment. That's been a sticking point perhaps in this debate, but I think we need to get over that.
I don't think the cost is going to be that great. In my legislation, in the bill that I am introducing today, we have them start at least at the hub airports in the United States, the busiest airports. There are some 71 that would meet the definition of the number of flights per year to be a hub.
Again, we're not talking about as large a sum as we might if we were trying to install it in every single airport in the United States or those overseas.
I might also mention, because I'm sure someone is going to ask at one point, why didn't we include foreign airports in this bill? The fact of the matter is, and to be perfectly candid here for my colleagues, we wanted to avoid joint referrals--is the first instance. We don't want to have it delayed and bogged down in other committees.
If someone on the floor, even after this committee meets, would want to amend the legislation to include foreign airports, then that certainly would be welcomed on my part, but we wanted to avoid that particular parliamentary situation in the Congress today.
Mr. MOLINARI. Thank you. I think your legislation has a great deal of merit, and I look forward to having it come on the floor in the near future.
Mr. McCURDY. Thank you.
Mr. MOLINARI. I'd like to welcome Mr. McNulty, the gentleman from New York. I haven't had the pleasure of saying hello to you yet, but welcome to you. I have just one or two questions, if I may.
In your testimony you have indicated that you would want the administration to notify the public when high level warnings are issued. That's always a question of definition.
What do you mean when you say "high level"?
Mr. McNulty. It's my understanding, Mr. Molinari, that last year there were approximately 22 such warnings issued on international flights. It does not seem unreasonable to me in that category of high level alerts that the public should be notified. I'm not talking about the ones that I guess there are several a day, threats that are received. Obviously, I don't think that we should interrupt international air travel every time some terrorist picks up a phone,
but when they are characterized as high level alerts by people in our intelligence communities, then I think the public has the right to know.
Mr. MOLINARI. You're not making reference, for example, to somebody who receives a phone call saying there's a bomb on the Eastern shuttle coming from New York to Washington,
that in a case like that people should be notified?
Mr. McNulty. Well, I'm not an intelligence expert, but I understand that we have ways of categorizing these threats to see if there's any substance to them. When you're able to whittle down several hundred in the course of a year to 22 that are categorized as high level alerts, it would seem to me that I would place trust in the judgment of the experts who categorize those 22 high level alerts and make them available to the public.
Mr. MOLINARI. The gentleman makes a very good point.
For a while I was receiving daily bulletins from FAA. It was astounding to see every day the number of bomb threats. We could see with some of the labor strife that's going on right now, depending upon what we define as a high level threat, how you could effectively close a carrier down by such phone calls.
Mr. McCURDY. If the gentleman would yieldMr. MOLINARI. Sure, I'm be glad to yield. Mr. McCURDY. May I make one point? The sad reality is, even with warning in the instance the Pan Am flight, there is good question whether or not, even with searches, that that device would have been detected, because of the nature of the threat that we're dealing with
We're no longer dealing with terrorists that are building bombs in their garages. They're using sophisticated triggering devices. They're using sophisticated explosives that are very, very difficult to detect, and that is why we need to go beyond just the question of warning, which I certainly concur with my friend from New York, but the point of the matter is that unless we literally take apart every camera or every briefcase, literally tear things apart, it is very difficult unless we implement this new technology.
Even that is not going—it depends on the—there are some questions as to how reliable as to certain amounts. But at least in the areas where there is the greatest threat, I think that if we move forward rapidly on this technology, that we can at least set up even a greater deterrent to that terrorist.
If that person is willing to give up their own life, then that, too, is even a more difficult question.
Mr. McNulty. I agree with the gentleman, but in the interim, until that technology is deployed, in the instance of these high level alerts, I believe the public has a right to know and airline passengers who are traveling should be able to make the judgment as to whether or not they want to take that risk after such an alert has been issued.
Mr. MOLINARI. Thank you. My time is about up, Mr. Chairman. I thank both the gentlemen for their responses to the questions.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Further detailed information on those matters will be provided by subsequent witnesses which we want to get to, but, just for the record, for 1987, against U.S. aircraft and U.S. air