The newly confirmed head of the Transportation Security Administration vowed on Wednesday to retrain thousands of airport screeners to better detect security breaches after an internal report found the agency failed to locate hidden weapons 96 percent of the time.
"It disturbs me we had that failure rate at the checkpoint," TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger told the House Homeland Security Committee, reported The New York Times. "Over the course of the next 60 days, we will have trained the failure out of the front line of the TSA."
Neffenger was appointed leader of the agency four weeks ago after Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson reassigned the previous chief due to the agency's abysmal failure to detect hidden weapons at security checkpoints.
Earlier this year, undercover TSA inspectors posed as passengers and set out to beat the screening system. As documented in a report by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests at dozens of airports, with undercover agents repeatedly able to sneak banned weapons and explosives through checkpoints, reported ABC News. The inspector general also found that 73 aviation workers had possible ties to terrorism.
"My highest priority is to ensure solutions to the recent cover testing failures," Neffenger said. "Efficiency and getting people through airport security lines cannot be our sole reason that makes you take your eyes off the reason for the mission."
Neffenger, a former Coast Guard vice admiral, said he also plans to increase oversight of security badges, expand the TSA's canine team, hire private security and third-party screeners and improve and expand the agency's expedited screening procedures, such as the TSA's PreCheck program.
Passengers who have joined the PreCheck program have already been extensively vetted to ensure they are non-threats. Only about 4 percent of travelers are currently enrolled.
"The goal is to have a fully vetted population through the PreCheck program," Neffenger said. "I want to separate a known population from the population I don't know about. I want to make [checkpoint screenings] less invasive for the known population and lessen the burden on the TSA."
He said he would like to eventually replace traditional boarding passes with biometrics such as fingerprints or iris scans.
Neffenger's hearing on Wednesday seemed to go fairly well, with Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, saying he is "the right man for the job," according to The Hill.
"I'm looking forward to working with you to improve safety and making [security] more passenger- friendly," McCaul said.
The panel's ranking member, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mass., lauded Neffenger's willingness to shake up the TSA's culture.
"Your comments are a breath of fresh air," she said. "One of the challenges we have is the culture of 'we've always done it this way.'"