The new head of Transportation Security Administration, Peter Neffenger, was on Capitol Hill and in the hot seat Wednesday, testifying before the House Committee on Homeland Security. The committee wanting to know if the Coast Guard veteran can turn the TSA ship around, after the Inspector General found 67 out of 70 fake explosives got through screening.
"These findings shatter public confidence, a reported 96 percent failure rate to detect explosives is completely unacceptable,” Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas said during Neffenger’s contentious testimony.
Neffenger spent much time spelling out some of the systemic issues that need to be addressed with the TSA.
"What we measure is what our employees will pay attention too. So it is imperative that we get our metrics right," said Neffenger.
Recent surveys of TSA employees at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport show morale is at rock bottom, even compared to other airports. Out of 455 TSA employees surveyed at MSP, 59 percent say agency hasn't kept its promises. While 47 percent were critical of the “Managed Inclusion Program,” which screeners mockingly call "managed illusion" that allows passengers into the pre-check line without going through a background check.
Wednesday, Neffenger said he's phasing out the unpopular program.
Another survey last year was even more damning for the TSA’s top bureaucrat at MSP, Cliff Van Leuven. 77 percent said senior leaders “fail to inspire motivation and commitment” and 54 percent said they don't “maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.” The survey went on to say 49 percent don't even have a "high level of respect" for the top bosses, that is compared with 38 percent for the TSA nationally.
None of this is news to two TSA whistleblowers from MSP. Assistant directors Becky Roering and Drew Rhoades say they were ignored when they brought up security concerns to a boss who they claim was only interested in shorter wait times.
"TSA is handing out pre-check like Halloween candy in an effort to expedite as soon as possible, despite self-admitted security gaps created by the process," Roering said during a June 9 testimony on Capitol Hill.
During his own testimony, Neffenger certainly made big promises. Those included tightening up screening and background checks for airport workers, biometric boarding passes, and a new management culture adding it’s a new day for the TSA.
The TSA had no comment on the survey results for MSP.