Obama’s TSA pick passes first Senate test

Obama’s TSA pick passes first Senate test
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President Obama’s nominee to take over the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was approved by the Senate transit committee on Thursday.

The Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted to approve Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger to lead the agency, which has come under fire after a report earlier this week that found its agents failed to find fake bombs and weapons in internal tests at almost all of America's busiest airports.

The panel’s chairman, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Finger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate MORE (R-S.D.), said Neffenger could restore confidence in the beleaguered agency. 


“Vice Admiral Neffenger is highly qualified to lead TSA and take on the difficult challenge of creating a culture of accountability within the agency,” Thune said in a statement. 

“Terrorist groups like ISIS want to hit us where we are most vulnerable — the 50,000 men and women of TSA have an incredibly important job and little margin for error,” Thune continued. “Commerce Committee members, on a bipartisan basis, have been asking President Obama for a nominee since January and worked together to expeditiously to consider this nomination.” 

The TSA has faced intense scrutiny since 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.

The TSA’s acting administrator, Melvin Carraway, was removed from office after the findings became public. 

Democrats have sought to defuse criticism of the TSA's failed bomb tests by pointing out that the Republican-led Senate has yet to approve the president's choice to lead the agency. 

The top ranking Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA names DC headquarters after agency's first Black female engineer Mary W. Jackson NASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon Lobbying world MORE (D-Fla.), also said that Neffenger could turn around the TSA. 

“Investigation by the TSA’s inspector general paints a picture of an agency that is not fully up to the task of protecting the traveling public,” Nelson said in a statement. “That’s why we need to get new leaders like Admiral Neffenger in there quickly.”

If Neffenger is ultimately confirmed by the full Senate, he will be the first full-time administrator of the TSA’s since its long-term director, John Pistole, resigned at the beginning of the year.