The Brancatelli File



October 11, 2001 -- Want to know why we are no safer in the skies today than we were 30 days ago?

Two words: Tom DeLay.

The Republican majority whip of the House of Representatives, DeLay is standing in the metaphorical schoolhouse door and refusing to consider legislation that would federalize airport security. Thirty days after this nightmare began, 30 days after hijackers attacked our country with commercial aircraft and killed thousands, DeLay doesnít think the federal government should secure the nationís airports and airlines.

As frequent flyers, as a nation, we ought to do what we did to George Wallace a generation ago when he stood in the school-house door of the University of Alabama. We ought to activate the National Guard of DeLayís home state of Texas, send it to the Capitol, and then threaten to physically remove DeLay unless he stops his obstructionist behavior.

It doesnít matter whether you have supported DeLay and agreed with his politics in the past or, like me, found him to be a partisan thug. Friend or foe on September 10, you cannot help but be appalled and disgusted by DeLayís actions since September 11.

Within hours of the attack, two calls started making the rounds in Washington. One for a federally-funded bailout of the nationís creaky, privately owned airlines and one for the immediate federalization of the nationís creaky airport security system. In light of his supposedly passionate Conservative political beliefs, DeLay should have been against corporate welfare for the airlines and for the immediate federalization of airport security.

Even in these times, with the world turned upside down, DeLayís philosophical flip-flop since September 11 has been breathtaking. Along with a cabal of mostly Democratic lobbyists--including Linda Hall Daschle, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle--DeLay worked tirelessly to plunder the national treasury for the benefit of the airlines. His actions were so notorious that Continental Airlines plutocrat Gordon Bethune even issued a press release praising DeLay. Read this hideous document for yourself. If you get past the fawning, notice how carefully it was written: The $5 billion gift to the airlines is never specifically mentioned. Even Bethune apparently realized that it would be tasteless to thank the House majority whip for diverting taxpayer funds into private pockets.

But DeLayís egregious posture on federalizing the nationís airport security is much worse than his shabby, pork-barrel politics. It is irresponsible and dangerous, especially in light of the FBI statement on Thursday warning of more terrorist attacks.

DeLay claims to have a philosophy problem with federalizing security because it would add to the government bureaucracy and cost $2 billion. He says he prefers a system that allows the government to oversee private contractors.

DeLay, of course, is talking nonsense. For starters, he dishonors all true Conservatives by hiding behind their principles of small and unobtrusive government. No true Conservative meddles with the free market by handing $5 billion of tax revenue to his Texas airline cronies. No true conservative picks the taxpayersí pockets.

And DeLay is talking gibberish when he advocates governmental oversight of private enterprise in the matter of airport security. That is exactly the model we have now and it does not work. Under the direction of the Federal Aviation Administration, the airlines do security on the cheap, subcontracting it out to private firms that pay screeners as little as $6 an hour. The average turnover rate of security screeners is an alarming 126 percent. It is 416 percent at Lambert in St. Louis and 200 percent at Logan in Boston, where two planes were hijacked on September 11. The efficiency of the screeners in detecting contraband was rapidly deteriorating before September 10. Even after September 11, with security ratcheted to unprecedented levels, not a day has passed without a report that screeners continue to miss guns, box cutters, knives and all manner of other contraband.

Besides, if DeLay were truly a Conservative, heíd surely have recognized what we all must now admit: Airline and airport security is a matter of national security. The country was attacked on September 11 by planes pilfered from our own commercial system. Since when do we use rent-a-cops to protect and defend our lives, our liberty and our national honor?

In point of actual fact, defense is the one overriding responsibility settled on the central government by our Constitution. If DeLay were the majority whip in 1917, would he have sent Blackjack Pershing to France with an expeditionary force of rent-a-cops? If he were House majority whip in 1941, would he have told Eisenhower to raise an army of private soldiers to storm the beaches of Normandy? Would DeLay have sent Pinkertons to Korea in the 1950s to repel the Chinese invasion?

Finally, there is the obvious precedent of the Coast Guard. It protects the nationís navigable waters. We donít send rent-a-cops to police Americaís seaports, so why does DeLay insist on leaving rent-a-cops in charge of Americaís airports?

For now, in the world as we know it after September 11, we need airport security in the hands of a federal defense force. If we can find $5 billion for DeLayís airline friends, surely we can find the means to build a national airport defense agency. If we can create a Homeland Security department, surely we can find the appropriate method to federalize airport security and the proper government agency or military-service department to manage it.

And itís time for DeLay to get out of the schoolhouse door.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright © 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.