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Published in THE HILL, May 13, 2004

Let's kill GOP bill: Official

By Josephine Hearn
May 13, 2004

A high-ranking Bush administration official last month called for a coordinated effort from various government agencies to defeat a Republican bill on homeland security, according to a memo obtained by The Hill.

Thomas Quinn, director of the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), wrote the April 2 memo to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assistant secretary for U.S. immigration and customs enforcement one day after lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow more pilots to carry firearms in the cockpit.

Quinn is a career employee, and his memo has raised questions about lobbying Congress. Although political appointees in the administration routinely lobby for and against bills, it is unusual for career employees to mount lobbying efforts.

"It's one thing to give advice to your superiors about a bill," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "It's another to call for a lobbying effort."

In the memo, Quinn said the proposed legislation "extends far beyond the original intent and spirit" of the armed pilots program - which was enacted in 2002 - by allowing pilots with military or law enforcement training to forgo training coordinated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Many pilots have complained that TSA's screening process and weeklong training program is unnecessary for those who have already received extensive firearms training.

The FAMS memo is the first public evidence that the air marshals service is opposed to efforts to expand the armed pilots program, said sources following the issue. It is also a rare look inside the lobbying efforts of the administration, providing fodder to the claims of pilot groups that elements within DHS have been reluctant to expand the program.

The mission of FAMS is to protect air security and promote confidence in the nation's civil aviation system.

Sens. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced the bill that Quinn opposes, which is titled the Cockpit Security Technical Corrections and Improvements Act.

FAMS spokesman Dave Adams said Quinn was not indicating the agency's position on the bill, but merely "letting his superiors know about concerns he had...We're all part of the whole aviation security package."

Adams confirmed that Quinn is a career employee.

"He's not lobbying. Like any other citizen, he's entitled ... to express his views to his superior. It happens every day," Adams said.

Both air marshals and pilots who have completed federal flight-deck-officer training are allowed to carry firearms onboard an aircraft, but air marshals receive weeks of training and do not face many of the restrictions that pilots do.

Quinn also urged related agencies within DHS to pursue a unified approach to torpedo the bill. "We believe that to defeat this bill will require a strong, coordinated effort on behalf of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], TSA, BTS [Border and Transportation Security] and the Department of Homeland Security."

A sponsor of the legislation was surprised that air marshals would oppose it. "This is not a slam on air marshals...I hope they will reconsider their opposition because in fact arming pilots backs up the air marshals," said Wilson, who said armed pilots would be a defense of last resort for the aircraft after hijackers had overcome air marshals.

Wilson and Senate co-sponsors Bunning, Boxer and Burns introduced the original legislation two years ago that allowed pilots to carry arms. They contend that TSA has not implemented the program as Congress intended, throwing up roadblocks that have allowed only 1500 of the country's total 115,000 active commercial pilots to be certified.

TSA claims that it is indeed following Congress's will. "We've been directed by Congress to [implement the program] and we are in the process of training cargo and passenger pilots," said TSA spokesman Brian Doyle. He said TSA has increased its training capacity to allow more pilots, as many as 5,000 by the end of the year, to complete the program. "If anything, TSA has gone out of its way to bring it to fruition."

Pilots groups pushing for the Bunning bill have long been skeptical of TSA's commitment to the program.

"Every time TSA doesn't support something, it takes new legislation to force them to do what they're supposed to be doing," David Mackett, a Boeing 737 pilot and president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance (APSA), which represents pilots from American Airlines, AirTran, UPS and Southwest Airlines. "This memo reflects the bias that has been within TSA since the program's inception."

Although the air marshals service was once a part of TSA, it has recently been transferred to DHS's Immigrations and Customs Enforcement directorate.

Quinn "should not be coordinating a campaign to defeat this legislation that provides needed increased aviation security," said Brian Darling, a lobbyist at Alexander Strategy Group who represents APSA. "[He] should instead be working with Congress to address the concerns of the FAM service and should not be coordinating a lobbying campaign against the bill."

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