TSA Chief Calls for Technology

As the head of the Transportation Security Administration took his "we need technology" message to the nation's airport executives Monday, the ranking Democrat on the Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee criticized Congress and the Bush administration for not investing more in aviation safety.

President Bush's budgets for three federal programs close to airport directors' hearts -- construction, new air traffic control equipment and explosives-detection systems -- may be reduced, said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Murray urged airport directors attending the annual American Association of Airport Executives conference to lobby against funding cuts.

Murray's message resonates with airport executives because the most expensive projects -- security and airfield development -- inevitably include a government component.

Some industry observers, such as David Forbes, president of aviation security analysts BoydForbes, say airport executives were too passive after 9-11. Programs that should have been energized by private-sector creativity have in three years grown stagnant in government hands, they believe.

TSA Administrator David Stone, keynote speaker at the conference Monday, reiterated his argument that the agency's failings are because of technology and not poor performance by employees. Stone said the TSA, which employs the nation's 45,000 airport screeners, could eliminate many of its shortcomings if it had the money for next-generation technology.

Last summer, the TSA enacted a controversial pat-down procedure after terrorists blew up two Russian planes. The pat-downs, which irritated some female passengers, could be eliminated if a so-called backscatter, which can "see" through a passenger's clothes, were deployed.

Walk-through metal detectors at airport checkpoints cannot detect explosives such as those used by Richard Reid, who was convicted of attempting to detonate a bomb in his shoe aboard an American Airlines flight. But an Explosive Trace Detection portal, which senses explosives residue in the air, or a document scanner, which can sense explosives residue on passports or tickets, probably would have.