The Senate Monday evening overwhelmingly voted to confirm Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Peter Neffenger to be the next chief of the Transportation Security Administration while Senate appropriators last week agreed to provide more funds than requested to boost training for the agency’s screener workforce at airport checkpoints.
The Senate vote for Neffenger was 81-1 with Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) casting the lone “nay,” saying afterward in a statement that “While Admiral Neffenger is an impressive man, it is naïve and dangerous to pretend installing one director can heal what ails TSA. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to admit that it has a crisis of bureaucratic complacency, lacking an overarching vision and coherent measures of success and failure.”
During his confirmation hearings Neffenger, who will retire from the Coast Guard, said that some of TSA’s significant challenges include retaining, training and accountability of its workforce.
“Agency culture, morale and effectiveness are a direct result of consistent and career-long training, recognition and accountability,” Neffenger stated in his prepared testimony provided to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which reported out his nomination last week. He added that as the agency’s workforce is reduced due to efficiencies gained through the adoption of risk-based security initiatives, “I will pay close attention to training and workforce development, to include how to leverage the TSA Academy to improve individual performance and to instill a greater sense of pride in the agency and its mission.”
Following a recent briefing by the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) about covert testing some of its auditors did at airport security checkpoints, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson reassigned TSA’s then acting director and directed that its screening equipment be re-tested and re-evaluated and that the screener workforce and supervisors receive additional training.
In a report accompanying the FY ’16 DHS Appropriations bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, the panel says it is recommending $238.9 million for screener training, $12.3 million more than requested and $13.4 million above FY ’15 levels.
“In response to recent findings by OIG pertaining to checkpoint security, the increase supports both instructor-led and on-the-job training critical for a professional workforce to identify the constantly evolving threats to commercial aviation,” the report says. The increase includes at least $2.5 million to create a Tiger Team for aviation security that will bring together senior managers at DHS and TSA with outside subject matter experts “to rapidly assess potential or identified weaknesses,” the report says. The team will report directly to the TSA administrator and provide corrective action plans initially focused on improving standard operating procedures and technology and reducing screening error.
The committee also boosted TSA’s request for checkpoint support by $14.9 million, recommending that Congress appropriate $112.7 million for testing, purchasing and deploying technology at airport checkpoints. The added funds are expected to be used in part to “further hone existing detection systems to detect emerging threats,” the panel says.
The committee also weighed in with language on issues related to body scanners, which are called Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), used at airport checkpoints. The report points to a year-old Government Accountability Office report that said TSA had examined in a laboratory environment the automated target recognition software that comes with the scanners but “had not done similar testing in an operational environment.” That means detection rates found in operations may differ from the laboratory, “so ultimate effectiveness may be misrepresented to Congress, oversight bodies such as GAO or OIG, and TSA itself,” the committee says.
The Senate panel wants TSA to report within two months of the appropriations bill becoming law on potential discrepancies between laboratory testing and live operational results.
TSA’s AIT machines are supplied by L-3 Communications [LLL]. DHS IG John Roth told a House oversight panel in May that covert testing of the AIT machines had uncovered potential problems with the technology with his concern being if they are effective (Defense Daily, May 13).