Under mounting pressure to fix long screening lines that have plagued airports nationwide for months, the troubled Transportation Security Administration today removed a senior official who oversees roughly 440 security checkpoints as part of a broader shake-up, according to an email sent by the agency’s administrator.
Kelly Hoggan, who was ousted from his post as the assistant administrator of the TSA’s Office of Security Operations, had drawn the ire of Congress for having received more than $90,000 in cash bonuses and awards despite known security weaknesses on his watch. He also was blamed in part for the agency’s use of so-called directed reassignments to silence internal whistleblowers and critics.
TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger announced the change in an email to senior managers and the aviation industry. The changes come less than two weeks after a May 12 House oversight committee hearing during which Neffenger defended Hoggan, saying he had no plans to fire him. Since that hearing, members of Congress have admonished the TSA to reduce the one- to two-hour delays airline passengers have faced around the country or new leadership would be necessary.
“To ensure we intensify our agency-wide focus on mission effectiveness, I have directed several leadership and operational changes at the national, regional and airport levels,” Neffenger wrote. “These adjustments will enable more focused leadership and screening operations at critical airports in the national transportation system.”
A TSA spokesman confirmed that the agency had announced management changes internally but did not comment further.
On Sunday, two prominent House members who appeared on television suggested that new TSA leadership might be needed. Reps. Edward Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Adam Schiff of California, ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, both highlighted management problems in talking to ABC’s “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos.
At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, where security lines have been among the longest in the country, a new leadership team now oversees screening, Neffenger announced. Both U.S. senators from Illinois and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former Obama White House chief of staff, last week criticized the TSA over the wait times, which have hovered around an hour and a half.
Reveal reported in February on Hoggan’s bonuses and the directed reassignments of whistleblowers who disclosed internal strife and misconduct to Congress. Hoggan’s deputy, Darby LaJoye, replaces him as the acting assistant administrator. Neffenger also moved Roderick Allison, who previously the director of the Federal Air Marshal Service, to deputy chief of operations.
During Allison’s tenure, the air marshals faced scrutiny from Congress and investigators for bad behavior, including allegations that flight schedules were rearranged for sexual trysts. The agency also has been accused of misconduct and other shortcomings in its intelligence office amid a broader culture of dysfunction and distrust.
“I hold my leaders to high standards,” Neffenger testified during the May 12 House committee hearing. “I’m confident in my current leadership team.”
During the hearing, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the committee’s chairman, blasted the agency for paying Hoggan, who earns a base salary of $181,500, nine awards and bonuses over 13 months. Lawmakers also echoed a whistleblower who described an agency in crisis during an earlier hearing last month.
“Since his promotion to that position in 2013, security operations at TSA have been abysmal,” Chaffetz said. “We’re having massive security failures … and this person at the senior part of the food chain gets $90,000 in bonuses. I don’t understand that.”
Last year, auditors with the Homeland Security Department’s watchdog agency sneaked fake explosives and other weapons through security checkpoints during covert tests 95 percent of the time. When classified details of those tests were leaked, the Obama administration responded by reassigning the TSA’s then-acting administrator and nominating Neffenger to take over the beleaguered agency.
Aviation industry officials increasingly have called on the TSA to address staffing issues associated with the long wait times. Airlines for America, a consortium of major carriers, launched an initiative called ihatethewait.com to track wait times and inform passengers to allow for extra time at airports.
“The motivation behind our approach was simple: Lines at our largest airports have been excessive and are projected to get worse as we get into the busy summer travel season,” Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for the trade group, said in an email.
Officials from the Airports Council International-North America, which posted Neffenger’s message, could not be reached for comment.