WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Transportation Department's inspector general said Wednesday there continue to be alarming security lapses at airports despite tighter controls implemented after Sept. 11.
Kenneth Mead told a Senate hearing that his office, working with Federal Aviation Administration staff, had identified some 90 incidents involving poor security practices since they began monitoring screening operations.
These included inconsistent use of explosive detection systems to screen checked bags, screeners not finding knives and other dangerous items in passengers' carryon bags and the failure of carriers to randomly check passengers boarding aircraft.
"We believe fundamental changes are needed to enhance the effectiveness of the aviation security system," Mead told the Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee.
The hearing was held as lawmakers from the House and Senate struggled to come up with a compromise aviation security bill. The big issue was whether airport screeners should become federal workers.
Adding to a sense of urgency was Monday's crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in New York City. While there was no immediate indication that terrorism was involved, lawmakers said it added to their responsibility to pass legislation that will restore the public's flagging faith in air safety.
But at a second meeting Tuesday of House and Senate negotiators trying to resolve differences in their bills, little headway was made on the question of airport screeners. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, floated a compromise under which the nation's largest airports would have federally employed screeners while smaller airports would have more flexibility, but neither side appeared willing to give much ground.
Since the hijackings of four jetliners on Sept. 11, the government and airports have taken such measures as stationing National Guard forces at airports, tightening background checks of screeners and limiting carryon bags. There have still been breaches, such as an incident at Chicago's O'Hare last week when a man got past screeners carrying a bagful of knives and a stun gun.
"The record is pretty miserable," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., a supporter of creating a federal screening force. He said that since Sept. 11, despite increased vigilance at airports, there have been 24 major breaches of security.
President Bush has made legislation to overhaul aviation security an urgent priority.
The Senate Commerce Committee chairman, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and the House Transportation Committee chairman, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, the top two negotiators, said their staffs have made good progress over the weekend, resolving some 45 of 71 differences between the House and Senate bills.
They remained apart on screeners: Hollings' Senate bill would make federal workers of all 28,000 baggage screeners, now privately contracted by airlines; Young's House bill would put screening operations under federal controls but allow the administration to decide whether screeners would be private or public workers.
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