Remarks by Senator Murray Before a Joint House-Senate Hearing on Aviation Safety

Sep 20 2001

Murray stresses need for unified approach to improve safety

Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) convened an historic joint hearing of the House and Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittees to address aviation safety in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Senator Murray's opening remarks follow:

We meet today under extraordinary circumstances. Our country has been attacked. Our people are in mourning, and our nation is preparing for a long battle against terrorism. There is little we can say today to bring comfort to those who lost friends and loved ones in the attacks of September 11th. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims, their families and friends.

We're grateful to the rescue workers and relief organizations who are containing the damage and comforting the affected. And we are grateful to the military families of our nation who may be called on to protect and defend us in the coming months.

In the past few days, I've been struck by how all Americans have come together to show our national unity. At this hearing, we have Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate all coming together to improve aviation safety. And I just want to add that whatever the coming days may bring we've got to hold on to the sense of unity we've discovered in the past nine days.

Because the attacks were launched from our nation's own transportation system, today we have brought together the Transportation Subcommittees of the House and Senate for the first joint hearing in recent memory. I want to thank Chairman Rogers for recommending that we hold this hearing jointly, and I welcome the leadership of the Chairman and our colleagues from the House.

The terrorist attacks have revealed gaping holes in our transportation system and in our intelligence gathering system. My purpose in calling this hearing is not to place blame on any one individual or agency. I want to be very clear that there were many failures here. We are not here to blame those workers who operate X-ray machines or who screen passengers. We also had a failure of our intelligence system on which we spend billions of dollars each year.

We can't expect an $8-an-hour security screener to foil an attack that a multibillion dollar intelligence system could not prevent.

Those airport security workers are no more responsible than the airlines that hire them. And the airlines are no more to blame than the FAA for allowing such a vulnerable system to persist. Similarly, I don't believe the FAA is any more responsible than the intelligence agencies that are charged with monitoring suspected terrorists and thwarting their efforts.

On Monday, I met with a number of security screeners in Seattle. I was impressed by their dedication. But I am concerned about the lack of consistent standards, training and experience throughout each airport and throughout the country.

For too long, we have focused on how to do security inexpensively. From now on, we have to focus on how to do it well.

In truth, these workers are just part of our transportation system. From the airport parking garage to the terminal, from the gate to the cockpit, and from the tower to the cabin, thousands of people are responsible for our safety when we step on an airplane. These are human beings, and they are making decisions about safety and security in a fast-moving environment with little margin for error. I want to make sure that those workers have the most experience and the best training possible because our transportation security system is only as strong as its weakest link.

As we've seen in the past week, the aviation industry is a key part of our economy -- a part that we cannot allow madmen to shut down. We must be safe, but we must also keep our transportation system running efficiently.

In recent days, airlines and suppliers have cut service and laid-off employees. The Boeing Company just announced it's laying-off as many as 30,000 employees because aircraft orders have been canceled or delayed. I am vigorously supporting efforts to help the ailing aviation industry and its workers. As Chairman of this subcommittee, I will work to make sure that the funding is there both to get this critical industry back on its feet, and to make our aviation system once again the safest in the world.

We've called this hearing to answer two questions: Is it safe to fly today? And what steps must we take to prevent future tragedies?

To answer those questions, we have here this afternoon both Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. Later, we will also take testimony from the DOT Inspector General, and the General Accounting Office, which have both done extensive work in this area. We will also have a representative from the Boeing Company to discuss specific issues of securing cockpit doors and the safety tradeoffs that come with that enhanced security measure.

With the help of our witnesses today, we will take the lessons of this tragedy and turn them into safer airports and safer travel.