Airport Safety Won’t Be Reduced, Dole Says : Transportation Secretary Tells Women Meeting in Anaheim of Tightened Security Measures

Times Staff Writer

Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth H. Dole said Monday that stepped-up airport security has helped to prevent terrorist incidents in the United States and added that key federal aviation safety personnel would be protected from the budgetary ax.

But beyond encouraging individual nations to tighten security at international airports, Dole said the United States has little leverage except to bar entry to U.S. airports--an extreme measure so far taken only against Libyan and Lebanese airlines.

Speaking in Anaheim at the fourth annual Conference on Women, Dole said she recently asked Congress to make unauthorized entry to airport security areas a federal crime. The proposed legislation also would permit airlines and airports to conduct background checks of potential employees for “criminal records.”

To prevent terrorist attacks abroad, Dole said Federal Aviation Administration inspectors also will examine security measures at every foreign airport served by U.S. carriers. Where security is found wanting, Dole said she may invoke her authority to suspend operations between the United States and any foreign airport.

The highest ranking woman in the Reagan Administration also said more must be done to open opportunities for women in the labor force. She made these remarks at a press briefing before her keynote speech to an audience of 4,000, mostly women, at the conference’s opening day luncheon.

Not the Millennium

“We have not reached the millennium yet,” Dole said. “We still have a ways to go.”

The two-day symposium on women’s issues, sponsored by state Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), was expected to draw a total of 10,000 women to the Anaheim Hilton Hotel for seminars ranging from investment strategies to crime prevention to dressing for success and breast enlargement surgery.

“It’s spectacular,” pronounced the jovial Campbell, who is running for the Republican nomination for state controller.

The conference, co-sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration and Chrysler Corp., was expanded to two days because more than 3,000 women were turned away from last year’s gathering, said conference organizer Karen Smith, Campbell’s district coordinator. Even with a second day, Smith said about 1,000 applicants could not be accommodated.

Many had attended before.

Linda Leedy so liked two previous conferences she brought her 3 1/2-month-old son with her Monday from Calabasas.

“It’s been a way to network with other women,” said the 27-year-old former executive secretary after changing son Jason’s diaper. “And there are enough home kinds of things here--they’re not totally career-oriented.”

Charlotte Kopitzke, 58, of Newport Beach and Joan Geroch, 54, of Huntington Beach took time off from their jobs at Orange Coast College to gain insight on investments and planning for the future.

“We are vitally interested in all these issues, so we came here to learn,” Kopitzke said.

Sought Boost in Self-Esteem

Junior high school teacher Lori Autenrieth of La Habra Heights also traded in a vacation day. But she came to “get a good boost in the arm of self-esteem.”

The 31-year-old mother of two said she was looking for tips on handling the pressures of juggling work, motherhood and marriage.

“I thought it would be all geared toward careers; instead there’s a seminar in putting on makeup and breast enlargement. Can you believe it?” she said as she rushed past booths hawking everything from franchises to self-help tapes to handmade porcelain jewelry.

Many women--and some men--said they came to Monday’s seminar to hear Secretary Dole. There were so many, in fact, that two banquet rooms were used and Dole had to give her speech twice--and still about 1,000 women were excluded from the luncheon.

While Dole congratulated all in attendance for their individual achievements, she spoke of the need to eradicate discrimination for all.

Although a “tidal wave” of educated and qualified women entering the workplace in the last two decades has brought about a “quiet revolution"--one whose full impact has not yet been felt--Dole said more progress can be made.

At the Department of Transportation, for example, Dole said she has made it a priority to help more women enter the traditionally male-dominated field and train them for higher paid managerial posts and skilled jobs like air traffic controllers.

In the two years since the program began, Dole said, the number of women has risen from 19% to 22% of the Transportation Department’s approximately 100,000 employees. While that may seem small, she said the program “demonstrates what commitment can mean” when measured against a .5% increase in all of the preceding 16 years.

“The numbers of the past decades speak eloquently of progress,” she said. “But who among us can argue that we have completely eliminated discrimination, or totally banned that insidious brand of prejudice--what I call the tyranny of perfection,” she said. “In other words, you, too, can be treated the same as a man--so long as you out-perform him.”

But for those doors that have been opened, women have a responsibility to walk through them and open new ones, Dole said.

Talked of Job Challenge

In her earlier press briefing, Dole talked of the challenge of her own job.

She said the threat of international terrorism has forced her agency to tighten security measures for baggage and cargo screening, including eliminating curbside baggage check-ins for passengers on international flights. The number of armed sky marshals traveling U.S. air carriers also has been increased.

To ensure that aircraft and airport safety standards are upheld, Dole said mandatory budget cuts under the Gramm-Rudman budget reduction law would not apply to key FAA personnel, including inspectors, air traffic controllers and security workers.

“Budget cuts absolutely will not affect safety inspection personnel,” Dole insisted, adding that she is seeking to hire another 500 inspectors and 1,000 more controllers.