CONTINUING deficiencies in aviation security have prompted Norman Mineta, the secretary of transportation, to call for a crackdown on airport screening failures that he admits are "occurring around the country." Basic change -- not tough talk -- is needed to create confidence among the traveling public. Partisan bickering in Congress threatens that change and, with it, the recovery of the tourist industry.
continues to fail
The issue: Transportation Secretary
Mineta has called for improvements
in airport screening.
The Senate has unanimously approved aviation security legislation aimed at providing a seamless federal security force throughout the nation's airports and airlines. Republican leaders in the House have stalled the legislation, ranting that federalizing screeners would promote big government and increase union rolls. The opponents fail to comprehend the vital duties that need to be assigned to law-enforcement officers instead of minimum-wage employees of low-bid contractors.
President Bush has supported continued screening by private companies, but he has indicated he would sign the Senate version into law. He recognizes the urgency in restoring confidence in the country's air transportation.
Last week, a Southwest Airlines passenger carried a loaded handgun through security checkpoints, under the temporary oversight of National Guard troops, and onto the plane. When he realized the gun was in his briefcase, he notified a flight attendant and surrendered it.
Mineta calls the incident "intolerable" and says that "an unacceptable number of deficiencies continue to occur," causing "a growing lack of confidence and increasing criticism" of the Federal Aviation Administration. His solution is to direct FAA agents to order empty concourses, rescreen passengers and hold up flights upon any indication that security has been breached.
"I want confidence restored in the screening system," he says, "and the way to accomplish that goal under the current system is to know that when people fail to meet the current requirements, it is going to sting." That will only anger the traveling public and is not likely to restore confidence.
Travelers already should be irritated by a system advising them to arrive for a flight two hours early at most airports but instructing them to be at the airport three hours before their flights from Honolulu. They also should expect the nail clippers they carried through most checkpoints on their way to Hawaii to be confiscated before they board their flights home.
Under the system that Mineta says is failing, private companies hired by airline consortiums are required to meet minimum FAA standards, but their actual policies may differ from airport to airport. The solution is not to sting people under the current system but to change the system to create efficiency and uniformity.
A $9.3 million grant to the University of Hawaii's Pacific Biomedical Research Center and a visit next week by a team from the National Institutes of Health combine to provide an encouraging outlook for a potential biomedical industry here.
Grant to UH could be
start of something big
The issue: A $9.3 million grant to study
heart disease may spark a new industry.
Dr. Charles Boyd, who will direct the work of the new Laboratory of Matrix Pathobiology at the research center, says the funds from NIH are "dream grants that deans and directors and presidents of universities build institutions on." Indeed, the money together with UH's plans for a medical school and biotechnology facilities in Kakaako could nudge Hawaii's economic engine toward a badly needed revival.
The grant from the NIH's National Center for Research Resources is a feather in the UH research center's cap and it can be a strong recruitment tool to attract new faculty and good researchers. A renowned cell biologist has already been recruited and officials expect that more top-notch people will be lured here.
The laboratory, which will work with the John A. Burns School of Medicine, the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii and the College of Natural Sciences, will provide younger scientists with opportunities for research, thus creating a base of talent.
The work on cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the nation, is especially significant because native Hawaiians and other ethnic groups here suffer a high incidence of heart disease.
Boyd's team has already discovered a gene that causes premature hardening of arteries and other devastating vascular problems. If this kind of quality research continues, the collaborative operation can expect to pull in more money, something Hawaii hasn't been able to do effectively.
That's why officials from the NIH will be coming here next week. The agency hopes to encourage more of the kind of research that the UH center does. A study of grants showed that Hawaii was attracting a dismal $40 million less than the national average for such funding. The officials will help scientists, researchers and students apply for some of the $20 billion in annual NIHgrants.
If institutions such as colleges and universities, hospitals and health care centers and biotechnology companies can tap into this source, Hawaii may be on its way toward a new industry other than tourism to keep its economy going.
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