- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Airport screeners should be allowed to focus on the Transportation Security Administration’s primary of mission of security and let officials think about how fast the lines move, the agency’s head said Monday.

The TSA has come under scrutiny after the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found earlier this year in that undercover agents carrying mock explosives, weapons and other prohibited items made it through airport checkpoints in 67 of 70 instances.

TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, who visited Sioux Falls and toured the regional airport with U.S. Sen. John Thune, called the called the 96 percent failure rate “disturbing.” But he said covert testing is important, “because you want the good guys to break the system and not the bad guys.”

Neffenger said TSA had developed a disproportionate focus on efficiency instead of its primary mission of security. The former Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard wants the agency to refocus its screeners and managers on the primary mission as if the TSA was a U.S. military branch.

“I want front-line screeners doing what they’re supposed to do, which is screening and making sure that things that shouldn’t get past the checkpoint don’t get past,” he said. “I let leaders and managers worry about things like queuing and line speed.”

Neffenger was confirmed as the TSA’s head in June after the checkpoint report came out. The classified report was based on an investigation conducted by Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth; ABC News first reported the results of the audit. Following the disclosure, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson reassigned then-Administrator Melvin Carraway to a different job within the department.

Thune said Neffenger has a strong military background and is highly qualified to take on the challenges facing the agency.

“I think he has the right skill set to turn the TSA around,” Thune said.

Neffenger said terrorism threats are “more diverse and more challenging” than ever, and the TSA has been studying the specifics of the checkpoint failures and assessing the breakdowns in technology, people and processes.

“If we can get answers to those questions, I think you can train out the failure, the systemic problems in the organization,” he said.

Some of the solutions the agency is looking at are improving how it responds to the finding of prohibited items, deterring people from bringing such items through security, increasing effectiveness, increasing threat testing to sharpen officer performance and improving the Advanced Imaging Technology system.

Neffenger complimented TSA’s screeners for taking an oath to perform in a job that is seldom appreciated by travelers.

“They are really dedicated,” he said.

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Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ddlammers

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