Wait times at major airports that exceed 90 minutes. Independent tests showing Transportation Security Administration screeners failed to detect fake weapons and bombs planted by auditors 95 percent of the time. The constant threat of a terrorist attack. That's the stuff on TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger's daily must-address list.
A new addition to that list: a job in possible jeopardy. The Senate approved Neffenger's appointment as the TSA's sixth administrator in June. Just 11 months later, he has basically been warned.
During a Sunday morning appearance on ABC's "This Week," Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) each told viewers that there may be a need for management and leadership changes, or at least significant improvement, at the TSA.
Schiff is the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Royce is chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. And as members of Congress representing districts in California, both men spend a fair bit of time in airports. When "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos asked them about the need for change at the TSA, Schiff and Royce did not rule out a change in the TSA administrator's office.
Here's what Royce said to host George Stephanopoulos, according to the show's transcript.
ROYCE: So what we have done is move through legislation that would allow for the hiring of more of these screeners, but also for the payment of overtime. One of the difficulties we've had is with a great deal of turnover over at TSA, and there's certainly management problems at TSA. So with this legislation -- it's also important the administration move in with an overhaul of management at the TSA to make them more effective. And let me add one --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Replace the administrator?
ROYCE: Well, I think we have to have better results at TSA and I think most of the audits show that there are management problems there.
Then, Schiff followed with a more definitive call for TSA management changes. Again, from the show's transcript:
STEPHANOPOULOS: A two-pronged strategy, one overseas but also, Congressman, here at home. And you've -- you've talked about the repeated TSA failures to actually capture fake weapons during tests.
SCHIFF: Yes, and the good news on that front, George, is that TSA has been improving. TSA has been doing their own internal checks, testing their own employees, and those results are improving. Still I think there's some distance to go and I won't truly believe those results until the independent inspector general does their own test and confirms the improvement. But I -- I think these long lines at TSA are not necessary to security. And I think there do have to be management changes. It's not just management though; there have to be more resources, there have to be more TSA screeners, if we ant to do away with these long lines.
The TSA has been beset by complaints about long and slow-moving security lines and lax screening. Since taking over the agency, Neffenger has forced the TSA's entire 60,000-person workforce to undergo retraining, opened an academy to improve the skills of new employees and replaced several top administrators. Yet, this week, NBC News called the agency's effort to deal with both issues an abject failure.
Neffinger came to the TSA after serving as vice commandant of the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard's deputy commandant for operations and deputy national incident commander during the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil-spill crisis.
Just two months before the Senate approved Neffinger to lead the TSA, senior and mid-level managers at the agency told a congressional oversight committee that the TSA was plagued by problems, including leaders who punished workers for identifying security lapses and other problems.
Jay Brainard, a TSA security director in Kansas, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that these leaders were a significant part of the agency's problem: "These leaders are some of the biggest bullies in government," Brainard said. "... Make no mistake about it: We remain an agency in crisis."
When an auditor's reporter in June showed that all but a tiny share of the fake weapons and bombs planted by testers cleared the TSA's screening process, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson reassigned the agency’s acting head and ordered the agency to make immediate changes.
In July, Neffinger was sworn into office.