TSA Would Allow Sharp Objects on Airliners
Screeners to Focus More on Bombs

By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 30, 2005; A01

A new plan by the Transportation Security Administration would allow airline
passengers to bring scissors and other sharp objects in their carry-on bags
because the items no longer pose the greatest threat to airline security,
according to sources familiar with the plans.

In a series of briefings this week, TSA Director Edmund S. "Kip" Hawley told
aviation industry leaders that he plans to announce changes at airport
security checkpoints that would allow scissors less than four inches long
and tools, such as screwdrivers, less than seven inches long, according to
people familiar with the TSA's plans. These people spoke on condition of
anonymity because the TSA intends to make the plans public Friday.

"We'll be announcing a number of new initiatives that will have both a
positive security and customer service impact," said TSA spokeswoman Yolanda
Clark, who declined to comment on the details of the announcement. The plans
must be approved by the Homeland Security Department and the Office of
Management and Budget.

Faced with a tighter budget and morale problems among its workforce, the TSA
says its new policy changes are aimed at making the best use of limited
resources. Homeland Security Department officials are increasingly concerned
about airports' vulnerability to suicide bomb attacks. TSA officials now
want airport screeners to spend more of their time looking for improvised
explosive devices rather than sharp objects.

The TSA's internal studies show that carry-on-item screeners spend half of
their screening time searching for cigarette lighters, a recently banned
item, and that they open 1 out of every 4 bags to remove a pair of scissors,
according to sources briefed by the agency. Officials believe that other
security measures now in place, such as hardened cockpit doors, would
prevent a terrorist from commandeering an aircraft with box cutters or

However, many flight attendants do not believe sharp objects should be
allowed on board. They argue that even though such items would not enable
another Sept. 11, 2001-style hijacking, the items could be used as weapons
against passengers or flight-crew members. "TSA needs to take a moment to
reflect on why they were created in the first place -- after the world had
seen how ordinary household items could create such devastation," said Corey
Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, which has
more than 46,000 members. "When weapons are allowed back on board an
aircraft, the pilots will be able to land the plane safety but the aisles
will be running with blood."

Charles Slepian, an aviation security consultant based in New York, said the
TSA's proposed changes fail to take into account the safety of passengers
and cabin crew. "Whenever you are serving alcohol, you have a double duty to
those who are present to protect them from someone who goes off the deep
end," Slepian said. "If we allow people to carry things that are really
deadly weapons on board airplanes, we're inviting trouble."

The TSA has been reviewing its list of prohibited items since last summer
and has debated whether throwing stars (a martial-arts weapon), ice picks
and knives should be allowed back on board, according to TSA documents. In
past briefings with reporters, Hawley said the agency was considering other
changes that would make the airline security system less predictable. For
example, he said that he was unsure whether it makes sense for passengers to
routinely remove their shoes at the security checkpoint. He said he also
plans to incorporate more bomb-sniffing dogs in airports.

Other changes are aimed at improving morale among the agency's 43,000
employees, whose number has been cut from 55,000 three years ago. Screener
turnover has reached 23 percent and many employees who were recruited to the
agency in the hopes of jump-starting a federal government career have not
had a raise in three years.

Last month, the TSA changed the federal job classification of its airport
screeners to "transportation security officers," a title that puts them more
on par with customs or immigration officers, Clark said. Several aviation
officials briefed by the TSA said the plan is to allow security screeners to
eventually become federal air marshals, who are now part of the TSA. Clark
declined to elaborate on those plans other than to say that "it opens up new
career opportunities" for screeners.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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