WASHINGTON – Following is a transcripted excerpt from Fox News Sunday, December 30, 2001.
TONY SNOW, HOST, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: The New York Times is reporting today that the transportation security administration will not impose rules requiring a high school education for airport security screeners. Such a rule would have put thousands of existing screeners out of work.
We're joined now by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in Dallas, Texas. My Fox news colleague Juan Williams is here, as well.
Senator Hutchison, you've been worried about airline security. Do you really think it's wise at this point to suspend a rule that simply requires a high school education for the people who are going to be screening the baggage and the passengers going into our airports?
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, R-TEXAS: Well, the law that we passed increased the qualification requirements. It did say you should have a high school diploma or equivalency, but it did give the option for the department to allow someone without that to have work experience to make up for that.
I would prefer for us to upgrade across the board, but I also believe that there can be a judgment call here, and if someone has good experience and has shown the ability to do the job, that that should not be a disqualifier.
SNOW: Now, I thought the whole debate about screeners and whether they should be federal employees or federally supervised employees was to make sure we got a higher grade of personnel than we now have. It sounds as if we're simply going to be adding to the existing work force rather than combing out people who may not be doing their jobs.
HUTCHISON: Well, I hope that you're not correct, and I understand why you're saying that because, of course, when we passed the law, we did increase proficiency requirements — you have to take a test — much longer training requirements. We certainly have English requirements, and also hearing proficiency requirements.
So, there are some things that are not flexible, and those are not flexible. But we do have to allow people who have work experience to have an opportunity to show. Even the military doesn't require a high school diploma if other things are shown to overcome that.
SNOW: So we want to make sure they can see, speak and hear.
Now, yesterday, a passenger got on an airplane in Tampa, went to Dallas and went onto Memphis with a fully loaded gun in his baggage. Would you expect to see somebody getting fired as a consequence of letting that person through?
HUTCHISON: Absolutely. That is stunning to me.
JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS: Now, Senator, I wanted to talk to you about this young man who apparently had a bomb or explosive materials in his sneakers. He flew from Paris to Miami this week.
Paris officials let him on a flight although they said he appeared suspicious, had very little luggage, they had questions about his passport and didn't let him board the plane the day before.
What are Americans and what are U.S. officials to think about foreign governments and their ability to control who gets on flights bound for the United States?
HUTCHISON: I think we have to require foreign governments and the agreements that we make to allow planes to fly into our airspace to have stronger security requirements. They have to match our standard or meet a standard that we would set.
Everybody has to have an agreement before they can fly into our airspace, and I think we need to crack down on any country that would send airplanes into America in their security clearance requirements.
WILLIAMS: So you're going to have a message for the French and others.
And also, where was the flight marshal on flight 63?
HUTCHISON: Juan, that's a question that I have already asked the FAA. I do not understand why there wasn't an air marshal on that flight.
Now, I think the air marshals were not there, and I don't understand it because I was under the impression that every foreign flight coming into the United States had an air marshal. So that's a question that I have as well.
SNOW: Now, about the qualification of air marshals, right now anybody in the federal government who has a certain amount of proficiency with firearms can be named an air marshal. This could include accountants at the Department of Treasury.
What kind of qualifications would you like to see set for people who are going to be the air marshals?
HUTCHISON: Well, there has to be a training requirement, and there is one right now, for people to become air marshals.
What I am envisioning, Tony, is a career track. That's why I supported the federalization of the airport security. I want people to be able to start as screeners, to get experience, to work up to supervisory jobs and air marshal jobs so that it's a law enforcement function and we get a quality of person who wants a career. And that's what I see us building up into for the future. That's why I want to have better qualifications and I also want an upward mobility.
WILLIAMS: Now, Senator, we see at the airports Reserves on guard, in full uniform, carrying guns. One, are those guns loaded?
And two, what purpose are they serving? They don't actually deal with passengers, so is it simply a psychologically reassuring presence?
HUTCHISON: Mostly it is that. Now, they are trained to look for certain things that might be missed, and they have found sometimes that scanners have missed something, and that's a very important sort of oversight responsibility.
We also have Border Patrol agents who are adept at determining if people are doing something they shouldn't be doing or carrying something they shouldn't be carrying. And I think they have served a good purpose.
But mostly I think it is psychological, as we make the transition to a better screening process, higher qualifications, more training and air marshals that become permanent rather than detailed from other agencies.
SNOW: Senator, one of the most spectacular financial collapses in recent years has been a company in your home state, Enron.
President Bush was asked about this the other day. I want to show our viewers a piece of tape about the president talking about it, and then I want to get your reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I think the life-saving issue is something we need to look into. I think it's very important to understand what took place.
Government will be looking into this. I mean, SEC will be looking into the matters. Congress appears to be looking into the matters. There will be a lot of government inquiry into Enron and what took place there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: He was talking, of course, about the fact that a number of people who had 401(k)s with Enron had their assets locked up. They weren't able to make money out while the price of the stock was collapsing. As a result, they had their savings wiped out.
Is it time for Congress to take a good, hard look at what happened there?
HUTCHISON: Oh, absolutely. That was the most troublesome part of that whole collapse, and there was a lot of trouble about that.
But the fact that they didn't appear to be able to get out that stock, that they didn't have the choices that they should be able to have and the flexibility is of great concern, and I think we must look into that.
No one should be required to leave their assets in for more than a certain period of time. I think most 401(k)s have a quarterly or half yearly review where you can change your asset allocation. And I don't understand why they were not able to take their Enron stock out and replace it with other choices.
SNOW: Now, this thing has been going on for some time. Do you think Enron got a free pass earlier on Capitol Hill because it has been so generous with members of Congress and a lot of Republicans?
HUTCHISON: Well, I don't think anyone anticipated what was happening at Enron. The collapse was in a very short time period. So, I don't think people were asleep on Capitol Hill.
I do think that there will be strong inquiries about what happened to determine if we need to either make different regulations or laws requiring certain disclosures or there may be criminal activity. It may be that laws were actually broken, and we don't know that yet.
I would just say, Tony, that the end of the session was really focused on the issues that we had to address immediately — the appropriations bills, everything that needed to be done for the Department of Defense to prosecute our war. We had to work on the stimulus package, which unfortunately didn't pass. But I think the priorities were different at the end of this session.
SNOW: But Enron will be at the top?
HUTCHISON: It will be certainly a priority next year.
SNOW: And do you expect to see some officials in jail when this is all over?
HUTCHISON: It's too soon to tell, but this startling demise just defies description. And certainly I think criminal activity is a possibility, but I also think perhaps it was just people not knowing what the other side was doing, maybe a change in the nature of the company that didn't — that the accounting procedures didn't keep up with.
I think there are a lot of issues here. But mostly, I'm concerned about the employees who were not able to keep their retirement savings.
SNOW: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, thanks for joining us today.
HUTCHISON: Thank you.