President Obama will nominate the No. 2 official at the Coast Guard, Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger, to lead the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The White House announced Tuesday that Neffenger will replace longtime TSA chief John Pistole, who left his post at the end of 2014. The agency tasked with security at the nation’s airports has been run by an acting administrator for the past four months.
Members of Congress have criticized the president for not appointing a permanent leader more quickly.
Neffenger has served as vice commandant of the Coast Guard since 2014. A 34-year Coast Guard veteran, he also directed port security in Los Angeles and was deputy national incident commander during the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill.
“The talent and expertise Vice Admiral Neffenger brings to his new role after more than three decades at the U.S. Coast Guard will be valuable to this administration’s efforts to strengthen transportation security,” Obama said in a statement.
Neffenger must be confirmed by the Senate. Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said his nomination would “receive prompt consideration.”
Thune praised Neffenger’s “lengthy military service,” saying it “offers a strong indication of essential leadership skills and an understanding of the threats our nation faces.”
The vacancy that Neffenger is being nominated to fill was created when Pistole announced in October 2014 that he was resigning after nearly five years at the helm of the agency.
The TSA has been led in the interim by acting Administrator Melvin Carraway.
Pistole, who was appointed TSA administrator by Obama in 2010, led the agency through a high-profile transition to a risk-based airport security system that has been touted as a sea change in the federal government’s approach. The new system allows TSA employees to focus on searching for explosive devices by easing the screenings of passengers who volunteer for background checks.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told lawmakers in the Senate on Thursday before Neffenger's nomination was announced that he was "an excellent choice" that will be "very focused on aviation airport security."
Democrats in Congress also praised the choice of Neffenger to lead the TSA.
"I want to congratulate Vice Admiral Neffenger on his nomination to become the next administrator of the Transportation Security Administration," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who has been critical of the TSA in the past.
"With his decades of public service, I am hopeful he can bring ample leadership and experience to the agency," Thompson continued. "We need strong leadership in place to build upon the progress that has been made in addressing issues in aviation security. I look forward to working with Vice Admiral Neffenger and urge a swift confirmation process in the Senate."
—This story was updated at 5:02 p.m.