WASHINGTON Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson rallied U.S. mayors Thursday to insist on immediate screening of all checked airline baggage leading to some verbal fireworks with federal officials who say that just isn't possible right now.
"We screen all carry-on luggage, but we don't screen baggage that is checked. That doesn't make any sense," Anderson said, adding it could allow the smuggling of bombs or hazardous materials on board.
He led an effort that persuaded the U.S. Conference of Mayors, meeting in an emergency Washington summit on security issues, to adopt a resolution demanding such screening immediately.
But Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Jane Garvey told mayors that full screening won't be possible until 2004 because it will take that long to manufacture needed X-ray machines and other screening devices.
As the national media watched, Anderson and other mayors said that isn't good enough.
"Many of us recognize the biggest gap in security right now is our ability to screen all checked luggage," Anderson told Garvey during a question-and-answer period between her and mayors.
"We can pledge that we will do everything . . . to put in place as quickly as possible before these machines are manufactured whatever processes we can including hand inspection of luggage so we can reach the goal of 100 percent screening of luggage," he said.
Anderson added, "From the mayors' point of view, and our airport executives, we are absolutely supportive of meeting that goal immediately."
Philadelphia Mayor John Street was even more direct and adamant.
" '04 is totally, completely unacceptable not acceptable, not good enough for our family and our friends who are getting on airplanes. The risks are too high. To suggest we are waiting for the manufacture of machines is not good enough," he told Garvey.
Garvey said the FAA will look at ways to try to speed the process, saying she supports the goal of screening all checked baggage.
"The goal of 100 percent screening is absolutely the right goal," Garvey said. "We have committed ourselves to that goal."
She said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta is planning a meeting next week to see if manufacturers of screening devices can speed production.
"If there is a way to do it sooner, believe me, we will. We will do whatever it takes," Garvey said.
Carol Hallett, president of the Air Transportation Association of America, told mayors she also suggests more use of dogs trained to sniff out explosives as an interim screening measure.
Anderson said he has also urged during the summit that airlines take steps to ensure that passengers who check baggage actually board flights and remove their luggage if they don't.
"Believe it or not, that isn't happening now," he said.
Anderson told the Deseret News he has also pushed during the summit for the federal government to make and distribute more smallpox vaccine, calling it "the most urgent priority of this country."
He said, "Our government has known for a long time that there's a huge risk that rogue nations as well as terrorist organizations may have smallpox virus" for use as a "highly contagious" biological weapon.
He said people who were vaccinated years ago against that disease are now no longer immune and the country should take the step of producing much more vaccine now as a precaution."The seriousness of the risk and the ease of protecting against it make that wise," he said.