The terrorist attacks also have won support from Democratic leaders of the House and Senate for a federal takeover of airport security. Many Republicans, continuing the unified congressional response to the tragedy, are not objecting to that, although President Bush stopped short of a full takeover in his own proposal for change.
Some critics do bristle at the estimated $1.8 billion a year cost of passenger screening at 700 checkpoints in the nation's airports. They are wrong. The cost of adequate security is measured in dollars. The addition to passenger safety, let alone the passenger peace of mind that must be restored to save the commercial aviation industry, is priceless.
This is a nation that often finds money for tasks that might make sense locally but are far less important nationally. According to Citizens Against Government Waste, pork barrel projects have reached a record $18.5 billion - including $5.8 million for wood utilization research in Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon and Tennessee; $1.5 million added by the Senate for the Vulcan Monument in Birmingham; and $550,000 for the Springfield Library and Museum Association in Massachusetts for a national memorial honoring Dr. Seuss.
Now may well be the time to reallocate some spending from pork to protection.
In using commercial airliners to carry out their destruction against our nation and its symbols, terrorists have also torn at our confidence in air travel. Losses in the aviation industry are mounting each day, and further threatening our economy.
Alarmingly, Americans are also finding that cost may have compromised security in the past. Airlines, responsible for their own security, often contracted out security operations. The lowest bidder generally won, and the passengers lost. Ironically, jobs at airport checkpoints pay less than jobs at nearby fast-food restaurants, and the annual turnover rate for those jobs is above 100 percent.
The disincentive for airlines to increase security, in an industry with a low profit margin, is apparent. To be fair, there might not have been a good way to stop these terrorists. But there's a good chance that the terrorists took advantage of the giant holes in a poorly delivered system.
Bush, stopping short of a full federal takeover that would provide a national solution to a national need, seeks more federal control by making security contractors work for the government instead of for the airlines. That would give the government more control over standards, wages and background checks, and allow federal training. But that control could be even stronger - and consumer confidence even higher - with a federal airport security force.
Americans need to recapture a sense of security and confidence in the air industry. Government should be willing to provide it.