Reducing the wait at airport security checkpoints is necessary to restore public confidence in the aviation system, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Wednesday. In an interview with Government Executive, Mineta said his goal of keeping the wait at checkpoints to 10 minutes or less will not jeopardize security and is essential to providing quality customer service to the flying public. "We have a customer service orientation that we have to deal with as well as safety and security," he said. "The way to build confidence in the [aviation] system is to be able to move goods and people safely. And at the same time, people want to make sure they won't have to wait two hours to get something done." The 10-minute goal will reward the vast majority of passengers who do not try to bring contraband items onto airplanes, he said. "If people are dumb enough to come on board with a weapon, then they can damn well wait," he said. "What I'm saying is, if you don't come on board with a weapon, you're not going to wait." Mineta stressed that Transportation officials will strive to meet all the deadlines in the recently enacted Aviation and Transportation Security Act, including a mandate to inspect all checked baggage for explosives within 60 days. But he stood by a comment he made Tuesday that the 60-day goal would be difficult to meet. "I didn't say that we weren't going to try to do it, but it is a tough task to do," he said. For now, the law permits the Transportation Department to use explosive-detection machines, bomb-sniffing dogs or manual bag inspections to check baggage for bombs. But by the end of 2002, all bags must be screened by machines. Mineta said his agency could end up hiring more than 30,000 baggage screeners to staff the new Transportation Security Administration. He is looking to hire someone with a high-profile, law enforcement background to lead the new agency, which will be larger than the FBI, Border Patrol and Customs Service combined. Mineta would not say whether the challenge of building a new agency would be easier if he could use contractors instead of federal employees to screen baggage. The law requires all but five airports in a pilot program to use federal employees as bag screeners. "I'm not going to fight that battle now," he said of the dispute that tied up Congress for weeks. I've got to deal with the legislation. That's behind us now," he said.
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