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US Airport Security Chief Ousted Amid Widespread Complaints

  • Ken Bredemeier

A long line of travelers wait for the TSA security check point at O'Hare International airport, Monday, May 16, 2016, in Chicago.

A long line of travelers wait for the TSA security check point at O'Hare International airport, Monday, May 16, 2016, in Chicago.

The chief of U.S. airport security has been ousted amid widespread complaints from airline passengers about hours-long waits to get through security checkpoints at some of the country's busiest airports.

The Transportation Security Administration said it has moved Kelly Hoggan to another position after outraged flyers posted numerous pictures and videos on social media outlets in recent days showing security lines snaking through airport terminals at a snail's pace.

Sometimes the delays forced passengers to miss flights and sleep on the floor of terminals until they could catch new flights the next day, with some flyers complaining of waits that lasted three hours. Some of the worst delays occurred at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, the country's third biggest city.

TSA agents check passenger boarding passes and identification at a security screening checkpoint, Thursday, May 19, 2016, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.

TSA agents check passenger boarding passes and identification at a security screening checkpoint, Thursday, May 19, 2016, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.

The agency has promised to speed the hiring of an additional 768 security agents, possibly by mid-June, in an effort to cut the wait times at security checkpoints, even as the number of travelers increases during the summer vacation months.

Hoggan has been paid more than $181,000 a year since 2013 to manage the agency's workforce of 50,000 employees and security at the country's 440 airports. He was paid more than $90,000 in bonuses during one 13-month period in 2013 and 2014.

Aside from complaints from the flying public about the checkpoint lines, government watchdogs and congressional critics have attacked the agency's security lapses. The Department of Homeland Security found that auditors were able to get fake weapons and explosives past security screeners 95 percent of the time in 70 covert tests.

Some security agents said they were punished with reassignments to airports in other cities when they complained about the agency's management and that Hoggan played a role in sending them to new postings.

Critics of the agency say that Congress is partly responsible for the long waits in checkpoint lines by cutting funding to hire more agents in an effort to save money.

The dispute over staffing comes at a time when security regulations have been markedly tightened at U.S. airports in the 15 years since hijackers carried out the 2001 terrorist attacks in the country after walking unimpeded through airport security checkpoints.

FILE - Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in Washington.

FILE - Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in Washington.

Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson, who oversees the Transportation Security Administration, has warned that security waits at U.S. airports will inevitably be longer during the peak of the country's vacation season from June to August.

"We encourage people to have the appropriate expectations when they arrive at airports," he said recently at Reagan National Airport outside Washington. "Contemplate increased wait times as you travel."

But he said the government would not impair security to speed the checkpoint lines.

"We want to keep passengers moving, but we want to keep passengers safe," he said.

The airport security agency named Darby LaJoye to replace Hoggan. LaJoye has previously led security operations at two of the country's busiest airports, Los Angeles International Airport in California and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

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