Obama's TSA pick faces senators

Obama's TSA pick faces senators
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President Obama’s nominee to take over the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is facing questions from a panel of senators on Wednesday.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing on the president’s nomination of Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger to lead the agency, which has come under fire after a report last 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. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), said earlier in Wednesday’s hearing that Neffenger is facing a difficult task of restoring confidence in the beleaguered agency if he is confirmed by lawmakers. 

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“You come into this position understanding that you've got some significant challenges ahead of you, and we're obviously looking forward to the hearing today… your thoughtful testimony and we'll be looking forward to your oral testimony and answers to our questions,” Johnson said. 

Democrats expressed hope that Neffenger could stem the tide of criticism against the TSA. 

“TSA's been without a Senate-confirmed leader since the highly regarded John Pistole retired at the agency at the end of last year, and as we learned from press reports of late as well as from numerous briefings and our hearing yesterday, TSA faces some serious challenges that demand strong, permanent Senate-confirmed leadership,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said. “Thankfully, the President has nominated in you, Admiral Neffenger, someone who I believe -- I think we believe -- can provide TSA with the kind of leader that it needs right now.” 

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. 

Neffenger’s nomination was approved last week by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. 

If he is confirmed, Neffenger 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.