More Guard troops to serve at airports, Bush says

President Bush on Friday called up more National Guard troops to provide security at the nation's airports. With House and Senate negotiators still deadlocked on a compromise airport security bill and with the holiday travel season fast approaching, Bush announced the government will increase the number of troops at airports by 25 percent, or about 1,700 guardsmen and women. "These are temporary measures, and we believe they will help a lot," Bush said at a White House ceremony honoring the employers of people serving in the National Guard and reserves. Since Sept. 11, the Pentagon has called up more than 50,000 reservists and members of the National Guard to help support the war in Afghanistan and to perform homeland defense tasks such as guarding energy plants and providing security at airports. Almost 7,000 members of the National Guard are already stationed at airports. Bush announced other steps the government will take to make citizens feel safe to fly during the holiday season. The inspector general of the Transportation Department will perform random audits of security at airports across the country, and Federal Aviation Administration experts will help individual airports improve security, he said. Bush also said he has told Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to hold meetings with airport officials, security experts and airline executives to plan for the government takeover of airport security. Both the House and Senate airport security bills would put Uncle Sam in charge of security operations, although the House-approved bill would allow the government to use contract employees to screen baggage. Bush called on Congress to end the impasse on airport security and send him a bill he can sign. "I urge Congress to resolve differences between the two bills," he said. "They're not that far apart." Members of the conference committee on airport security will meet again on Tuesday. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., hinted Thursday that the White House might be willing to compromise on the issue of federalizing baggage screeners. McCain, who sits on the conference committee, said administration officials had proposed federalizing the security workforce at the nation's smallest airports. The Senate bill would add baggage screeners at the nation's largest airports to the federal payroll. On Friday, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said performance standards are the key to effective airport security and discounted the notion that private security firms are the only employers who hire unqualified employees with criminal records. "If you did a search of the database of everybody who is on the federal payroll, I dare say you're going to find people who have [criminal] records in the federal payroll, as well," he said. "So replacing one employer with another employer is not a substitute for having standards in place that make sure that nobody violates those standards." Bush also signed a proclamation to recognize employers who support the National Guard and reserves next week. "The federal government, it turns out, is the largest employer of [National] Guard and reserve personnel in America," he said. "And I am proud to sign a statement of support on behalf of our federal government."
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