The head of security for the Transportation Security Administration has been fired by Administrator Peter Neffenger over the scandalously long lines at security checkpoints — among other things.
Kelly Hoggan, assistant administrator for the Office of Security Operations, received $90,000 in bonuses during a year when the DHS inspector general issued a report that detailed a series of tests at 70 airports where 95% of explosives and guns made it through the checkpoint.
But questions should have been raised about why this guy got the job in the first place. Hoggan was also responsible for TSA intelligence operations — a responsibility for which he had no experience.
Though TSA is best known for the blue-shirted security officers that staff its airport checkpoints, the unseen side of the 60,000 member agency is a vast intelligence network that interacts with other federal intelligence agencies in an effort to protect the nation’s transportation system.
Neffenger’s predecessor as administrator, former FBI official John S. Pistole, set out to transform the TSA from a front-line agency known for its defense of airports into an intelligence-gathering organization that identified and acted on terrorist threats.
With operatives overseas and on the ground in major American cities, the TSA coordinates real-time intelligence information in a vast center in Northern Virginia that tracks suspected terrorists around the world and evaluates incidents here and abroad.
The criticism of Hoggan by three whistleblowers who testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in April focused on the fact that he had no prior experience in the intelligence arena, that he played a role in punitive reassignments of whistleblowers and that he received $90,000 in bonus pay for his TSA work.
The Peter Principle runs wild at TSA.
TSA administrator Peter Neffenger announced Darby LaJoye, former head of security operations at Los Angeles International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport, as Hoggan’s replacement effective immediately, according to the email obtained by Fox News.
In that same memo Neffenger said LaJoye’s expertise has “driven a renewed agency-wide focus on security effectiveness,” which is an issue TSA has been wrestling with since last year’s scathing DHS inspector general’s report, and now, with passengers experiencing extraordinarily high screening line wait times at airports around the country.
Wait times have eclipsed three hours at many airports, a phenomenon Neffenger and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson have attributed, in part, to a shortage of TSA officers combined with heightened air traveler volume.
It is for those reasons the agency’s chief announced Monday the establishment of a national command center at TSA headquarters. The Incident Command Center will “closely track daily screening operations, shifting officers, canine resources, the National Deployment Force and other resources to meet mission demands in advance of predicted passenger volume,” Neffenger wrote in the email.
As part of an immediate strategy, Secretary Johnson and Administrator Neffenger unveiled a ten-point plan earlier this month aimed at streamlining TSA screening wait times. That effort expedites the hiring of hundreds of TSA officers, maximizes the use of overtime for existing staff, and reduces the size and number of carry-on bags passengers can travel with.
But despite TSA’s best efforts, the agency is still warning airline passengers to expect wait times and to “manage expectations” when preparing for travel. While acknowledging the hardship increased wait times pose, both Johnson and Neffenger have vowed not to compromise aviation security in the face of heightened passenger volume.
These changes won’t cut wait times by a single second. The changes are PR, designed to make it appear that TSA is “doing something about the problem.”And scapegoating Hoggan was easy, considering he became a marked man when his bonus fiasco was revealed.
But real change is a long way off. TSA is an agency in crisis. It was losing 100 screeners a week in 2015 while only hiring fewer than 400. It isn’t a question of budget cuts. It’s a matter of managing resources — something no TSA administrator or deputy has ever proved they can do.
We have been incredibly lucky in not having a repeat of 9/11 given the laxness of TSA screeners and incompetence of TSA managers.