Relief is on the way for travelers flying out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
That was the word Wednesday from the head of the embattled Transportation Security Administration when he returned to Capitol Hill to face more questions about the epic airport security lines that have turned flying into a nightmare for thousands of travelers.
“Asking travelers to show up three hours before a flight is unacceptable,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, told TSA chief Peter Neffenger.
But that was as harsh as it got as lawmakers let Neffenger lay out his plans for speeding-up screenings at O’Hare — ahead of the summer traveling season — by adding more manpower and turning hundreds of part-timers into full-time employees.
“There will be 58 new officers there by the end of this week,” Neffenger said.
And there should be 300 extra TSA officers at O’Hare by mid-August, said Neffenger, who noted a report in the Chicago Tribune that the two to three hour waits at the screening checkpoints that in recent weeks caused hundreds of flyers to miss their flights are now down to 15 minutes in some cases.
Neffenger’s appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee came just days after he ousted head of security Kelly Hoggan and put in a new management team to speed up screenings at O’Hare. Hoggan was replaced by Darby LaJoye.
Hoggan became the poster boy for problems at the TSA after it was revealed that he had improperly been given a $90,000 bonus even as the screeners he supervised failed a test to detect mock explosives and banned weapons — and as the security lines at O’Hare and elsewhere were so slow that hundreds of passengers missed their flights.
Neffenger, who took over the agency last summer, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this month that his predecessor approved Hoggan’s big bonus. He repeated the same thing to this committee.
“It was completely unjustified,” he said.
Lawmakers grilled Neffenger earlier this month and accused the TSA of trying to hide Hoggan’s bonus from them by doling out payments in nine chunks of $10,000 instead of one lump sum, a scheme known as “smurfing.”
Hoggan, who was paid $181,500 as the TSA’s assistant administrator for the office of security administration, is currently on paid administrative leave, Neffenger said.
Some of the harshest critics of the TSA are the Republicans like Rep. John Mica of Florida who helped create the federal agency after the 9/11 attacks and who now are pushing to privatize it.
"I just don't get a warm and fuzzy feeling that you're embracing privatization," said Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Georgia.