WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Bush signed legislation to make the nation’s airport baggage screeners federal employees to enhance airport security.

“For our airways there is one supreme priority: security,” Bush said in a ceremony at Reagan National Airport. "For the first time, airport security will become a direct federal responsibility.”

The measure requires airports to expand inspections of checked baggage and explosive detection systems are to be in place by the end of 2002. Airports have 60 days to initiate the plans to increase such screening. In addition, the package requires at least one law enforcement officer at every screening post at major airports. The Transportation Department may also authorize pilots to have weapons in the cockpit of their planes. Already, additional air marshals have been assigned to flights, airlines have strengthened cockpit doors and the National Guard now patrol many of the nation’s airports.

To finance the security improvements, passengers will be charged a $2.50 fee each time they board a plane for a flight, with a $5 maximum for a one-way trip with multiple legs.

Final passage of the bill was delayed for weeks in a partisan struggle over whether or not baggage screeners should be federal government employees. Bush voiced support for the House alternative that would have left private companies in charge of airport security, but signaled he would be willing to sign any bill Congress sent him.

The compromise bill Bush signed requires all 28,000 baggage screeners to become federal employees, with the exception of five facilities that will take part in a pilot program testing alternatives. After three years airports may seek permission from the government to return to a private system of monitoring