WASHINGTON — The Senate voted on Monday to confirm a new leader for the Transportation Security Administration in the wake of reports of startling security gaps at U.S. airports.
Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger was confirmed as the agency's new administrator by a vote of 81-1. Neffenger was nominated by President Barack Obama in April, before revelations that auditors for the Homeland Security Department's inspector general were repeatedly able to sneak mock explosives and weapons through security checkpoints.
"Vice Adm. Neffenger will certainly have a tough job ahead of him. We're all aware of the recent inspector general report that questioned the TSA's ability to meet its security mission without change," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.
"The American people will be counting on Mr. Neffenger to validate the trust their elected representatives place in him tonight by pursuing every necessary reform in the wake of such troubling findings."
Neffenger would replace John Pistole, who left his post as TSA administrator in December after 4 ½ turbulent years leading the agency best known for its role screening passengers at U.S. airports. With a workforce of more than 60,000 employees, the TSA runs security operations at more than 450 airports.
Neffenger will take over an agency that has come under scrutiny amid reports of serious security breaches. It was revealed earlier this month that auditors were able to sneak prohibited items through TSA security checkpoints in 67 out of 70 tries. Another report disclosed that 73 airport workers with unspecified ties to terrorism were allowed to work in secure areas.
Neffenger addressed the issue during his confirmation hearing this month, telling senators the inspector general reports were disturbing and showed a need to "refocus on the mission." He pledged, that if confirmed, to fully identify the gaps in security and close them.
Neffenger has served as the Coast Guard's vice commandant since 2014 and has been with the Coast Guard since 1981. He once oversaw port security in Los Angeles and elsewhere in California and also served as deputy incident commander for the oil spill that resulted from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.
Casting the lone vote against the nominee was Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who said in a statement that while Neffenger was impressive, "it is naive and dangerous to pretend installing one director can heal what ails TSA."
Sasse said Homeland Security "needs to admit that it has a crisis of bureaucratic complacency."