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US TSA security chief ousted as the summer travel season begins

GettyImages-531740056BY JESSICA PLAUTZ From Mashable

The head of security at the Transportation Security Administration has been reassigned amid growing frustration at airports across the country, but whether that will mean relief for travelers is up in the air.

Kelly Hoggan joined the TSA in 2004 and was named Assistant Administrator for the Office of Security Operations in mid-2013. He will be replaced by Darby LaJoye, who was previously head of security at Los Angeles International and before that John F. Kennedy International.

The House Oversight committee expressed outrage that Hoggan was given bonuses totaling $90,000 in 2013 and 2014.

About a year later, a report from the Homeland Security Inspector General’s office revealed that agency employees failed to find explosives, weapons and other dangerous items in more than 95% of covert tests at multiple U.S. airports.

Hoggan’s ousting comes just days after Atlanta’s mayor let go of the general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the busiest airport in the world.

The leadership changes come at a crucial time of year for the U.S. airline industry. Memorial Day weekend is the kickoff of the summer travel season, and airports around the country are expecting record numbers of passengers. The Friday before the holiday is one of the busiest days for air travel all year.

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Airlines for America, the lobbying ground for most U.S. carriers, is predicting 231.1 million passengers will fly in June, July and August — an increase of 3.8% over last summer’s record numbers. That’s an average of about 2.5 million passengers a day.

While passenger numbers have soared, the number of TSA agents has decreased. Quartz’s David Yanofsky charted the problem:

However, even adding a large number of new security agents is unlikely to make a dent before the busy summer travel season.

Peter V. Neffenger, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, called the $34 million that Congress recently shifted forward for the agency a “good down payment.” The money is to be used to pay overtime to existing screeners, and add another 768 TSA agents by June 15.

Meanwhile, airports and airlines are taking matters into their own hands. New York City, Phoenix and Chicago are just some of the cities where officials are considering private contractors to replace the TSA, while American, Delta and Southwest have all made pushes to offer their own staff to assist TSA agents at their busiest hubs.

Travelers are being advised to arrive early to the airport — in some cases as early as three hours before departure — to ensure security lines don’t ruin their summer vacation.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Note: This post has been updated to reflect that Hoggan will be reassigned.

IMAGE: Passengers at O’Hare International Airport wait in line to be screened at a TSA checkpoint on May 16, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.

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