Jerry Epstein's Jan. 17 commentary gave an outdated account of U.S. aviation security. In the past two years, the Federal Aviation Administration has made real progress in enhancing security. An important advance has been the FAA's work with the airlines on a massive deployment of sophisticated security equipment. Congress appropriated $197 million in 1997 for the FAA's purchases of innovative equipment to protect air travelers. By the end of 1998, we had bought 327 trace explosives detection devices and 96 bulk explosives detection systems for U.S. airports. We're investing another $100 million this year and will buy even more in coming years.
Additionally, the FAA has sharply boosted the number of bomb-sniffing dog teams at airports--from 87 teams at 30 airports in 1996, to 154 teams at 39 airports now. There's also a new computer-based imaging system to train and monitor checkpoint screeners, a new automated passenger-screening program used by all major airlines and progress on a rule that will require FAA certification for the companies that hire and train checkpoint screeners.
Security today is better than it was two years ago, but more can and will be done. Every year, FAA agents perform nearly 10,000 tests at airports here and abroad to uncover any flaws in security systems. When errors are discovered, we make sure industry takes immediate corrective action.