Budgetary and strategic shortcomings have caused long lines in airport security across the country, Transportation Security Administration Administrator Peter Neffenger said Wednesday during a hearing on Capitol Hill. Neffenger, anticipating the fast-approaching summer travel season, told the House Homeland Security Committee that his administration may seek more money to address staffing shortfalls in airports that are worst at peak travel times.
He also detailed recent policies and actions taken by his administration to cut security clearance time, including bringing in dogs and getting airlines to pitch in with nonsecurity tasks like reminding passengers to remove shoes and belts. There are plans to add more than 700 agents to facilitate the screenings this summer, Neffenger added.
"We have a challenge this summer, which we are aggressively meeting head-on," Neffenger said.
In addition to the valuable role that airline employees are playing in tasks like rerouting passengers to shorter, less-used security lines, Neffenger said he’d like to expand the TSA’s PreCheck program to improve flow. That could mean dramatically adding to the 9.5 million people currently enrolled in the program. The PreCheck program gives travelers considered to be low-risk access to an expedited security check that allows them to keep their shoes and belts on and their laptops in their bags.
“I think it’s important to move more part-time employees to full-time because it drops my attrition rate,” Neffenger, who took his post last year, told the lawmakers on the committee.
Neffenger’s appearance at the committee comes one day after the TSA let go of its head of security amid the uproar about long wait times. The former head of security had come under scrutiny for some $90,000 worth of bonuses — just under half his yearly salary — that he received within the 13-month period leading up to this travel season.
The long lines have caused more than just extended waits. In airports across the country, including in Atlanta, New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, lines have caused people to miss originating and connecting flights. Just 10 days ago, nearly 500 people were stranded in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after flights were missed. They were, however, provided cots.