TSA replaces top security official. Will it make a difference?

Amid backlash from long security lines and mismanagement accusations TSA reshuffles leadership.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters/File
Travelers wait in line at a security checkpoint at La Guardia Airport in New York, last fall. The head of security for the US Transportation Security Administration has been removed from his position, after the agency was criticized for long lines at airport security checkpoints.

The top security official at the Transportation Security Administration was removed Monday amid a shakeup at the agency.

The TSA as been dogged with problems, from long wait times in security lines to management problems and security test failures. 

Kelly Hoggan, assistant administrator for security operations at TSA, will be immediately replaced by Darby LaJoye, Mr. Hoggan's deputy, on an acting basis, according to a memo sent by TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger to staffers Monday and obtained by the Associated Press and Reuters. Mr. Neffenger also announced a new leadership team at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, where lengthy security lines have caused hundreds of people to miss their flights in recent weeks.

Hoggan received more than $90,000 in bonuses over a 13-month period in 2013 to 2014, which was the focus of a US House Oversight Committee hearing on May 12. 

"Those bonuses were given to somebody who oversees a part of the operation that was in total failure," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) of Utah and the committee's chairman during the hearing, according to media reports.

Under Hoggan, a Department of Homeland Security audit found that attempts to sneak fake explosives and weapons past TSA employees at multiple US airports went undetected more than 95 percent of the time. 

Furthermore, some agency employees who say they were reassigned after filing whistle-blower complaints say Hoggan was involved in such maneuvers.

But will Hoggan's removal and Neffenger's other announced changes solve these management problems?

"No one thinks he is really making any meaningful changes," Mark Livingston, a program manager in the agency’s Office of the Chief Risk Officer who has sued TSA claiming he was demoted because he reported misconduct by senior managers, told The New York Times. "Bottom line is no one in T.S.A. believes in Neffenger now. He is only acting out of desperation."

And the changes might not even solve the issue of long security lines. 

"The timing of this decision is too late to make a real difference for the summer," Andrew Rhoades, an assistant federal security director at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport who has filed a whistle-blower complaint against TSA as well, told the Times. "Neffenger is only doing this because the media and Congress are making him look bad."

Neffenger had previously announced a 10-point plan to reduce wait times, but that isn't an easy task with TSA's budget slashed by Congress in recent years.

And adding 768 new officers, as the agency plans, by June 15 will only boost the security force of about 43,000 by less than 2 percent, according to The Washington Post. And that's not calculating in normal attrition rates of about 23 percent.

This year is expected to see record air travel, according to Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading US airlines. Summer 2016 is predicted to surpass the record set last year by 4 percent. The organization estimates that about 2.51 million people will fly each day from June 1 to August 31. If realized, that will be up by 95,500 passengers from last year.

Two senators have suggested airlines step in and stop charging fees for checked baggage in an effort to reduce the luggage passengers haul through security lines. 

But A4A spokeswoman Jean Medina told the Post in an e-mail that "Bag fees are not the cause of the excessive wait times we are seeing now."

"This is not a bag issue," Ms. Medina wrote. "The issue is this: TSA needs to properly align its manpower and resources with the need."

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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