GOP chairman: TSA needs 'dramatic cultural change'

GOP chairman: TSA needs 'dramatic cultural change'

The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee says the Transportation Security Administration needs a "dramatic culture changed after its recent failure to find fake bombs and weapons in tests at almost all of America's busiest airports.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump| Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal | Iran releases US Navy veteran Michael White Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump GOP shifting on unemployment benefits as jobless numbers swell MORE (R-S.D.) argued in an op-ed that was published on Friday in USA Today that a report from the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general that documented a series of undercover stings in which agents tried to pass through security with prohibited items shows there are widespread problems at the nation's airport security agency.

"Needless to say, this wasn't a minor security breakdown," Thune wrote.  

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"We're not talking about a "B" or even a "C" average," he continued. "We are talking about an unacceptably high failure rate." 

The Homeland Security Inspector General's testers were able to make it through airport security with prohibited items 67 of 70 times, including one instance in which a TSA screener failed to find a fake bomb, even after the undercover agent set off a magnetometer. The screener reportedly let the agent through with the fake bomb taped to his back, having missed it during a pat-down.

Thune said President Obama's new nominee to take over the agency, Coast Guard Vice Admiral Peter Neffenger, would have a big job ahead of him turning around the TSA after the failed bomb tests if he is confirmed by lawmakers.  

"TSA has roughly 50,000 employees, including many dedicated and hard-working screeners, but the agency regularly fails to deploy its resources effectively," he wrote. "And when TSA programs fail, too often the TSA's response has been denial or indifference. 

"The TSA obviously needs to implement a number of reforms, from addressing the security risks in the PreCheck program and screening to revamping training and procedures for airport screeners, but first and foremost, the agency needs a culture change," Thune continued. "The next TSA administrator needs to usher in a new era of accountability and responsibility, where incidents like the recent string of security breaches will not be tolerated." 

Neffenger has won high marks from lawmakers, including Thune, in his first appearances before lawmakers. His nomination was approved by Thune's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and he is expected to win a similar upcoming vote from the chamber's Homeland Security Committee. 

Thune said it is vital that Neffenger brings big changes with him to the TSA if he is approved. 

"Our country cannot afford to entrust our aviation security to a government bureaucracy that fails a majority of the time," he wrote. "Commercial airlines continue to be a prime target for terrorists, and the TSA's security failures invite our enemies to test us. With threats multiplying around the world, the era of 96% failure rates needs to end today."