GOP chairman: TSA nominee vote could happen this week

The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee said Wednesday that President Obama’s nominee to take over the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would likely be approved "as early as this week." 

Democrats have pushed for the confirmation of Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger since an embarrassing report earlier this week that found TSA agents failed to find fake explosives and weapons in internal tests at almost all of America's busiest airports.

Sen. John ThuneJohn ThuneSenate panel unveils aviation bill with consumer protections, drone fix Four Senate conservatives say they oppose ObamaCare repeal bill Live coverage: Senate GOP unveils its ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-S.D.) said in an interview with MSNBC's Luke Russert on Wednesday that Neffenger's confirmation would likely be brought up for a vote in the upper chamber in the next couple of days. 

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"That could happen as early as this week, because just last night we got the responses from his confirmation hearing in writing," he added.

Democrats have sought to defuse criticism of the TSA's failed bomb tests by pointing out that the president's choice to lead the agency has not yet been put in place. Thune said that the delay is Obama's fault because the president took months to send Congress a nominee for the TSA position, which had been filled by an acting chief since the beginning of the year.  

"The process starts … when the president sends us a nominee," he said. "The previous administrator announced that he was resigning in October [and] he was gone at the end of last year, and we didn't get a nomination from the White House until April 28.  

"We're going to process it quickly," Thune continued. "I said we would, we will. It'll get through the Senate. We'll get somebody over there." 

The South Dakota senator said Neffenger's confirmation would be just the beginning of the changes that are necessary at the TSA following this week's report.  

The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general documented a series of undercover stings in which agents tried to pass through security with prohibited items.

They made it through in nearly all the tests — 67 of 70 — including one instance in which a TSA screener failed to find a fake bomb, even after the undercover agent set off a magnetometer (the instrument used to screen for weapons at airports). The screener reportedly let the agent through with the fake bomb taped to his back, having missed it during a pat-down.

Thune said the report showed drastic changes needed to be made at the controversial agency. 

"We've got to change the culture at the TSA," he said. "These Red tests that were done by the DHS Inspector General's office were very alarming and very disturbing and all that does is invite our enemies to test us, so we've got to get this fixed quickly. 

"We spend a lot of money on expensive equipment and if there are malfunctions, we need to know that," Thune continued. 

Neffenger has been appointed to replace the TSA’s long-term director John Pistole, who resigned at the beginning of the year. 

The agency had been led by acting Administrator Melvin Carraway prior to this week’s findings of the failed bomb tests. Carraway was removed from office and he was replaced by the agency’s deputy director, Mark Hatfield