Senate overwhelmingly confirms new TSA administrator

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said 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.”

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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 in 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.

Neffenger addressed the issue during his confirmation hearing this month, telling senators the inspector general reports were disturbing and pledging that if confirmed he would fully identify and close any security gaps.

Neffenger has served as the Coast Guard’s vice commandant since 2014 and has been with the Coast Guard since 1981.