The head of the Transportation Security Administration told lawmakers Wednesday that he's ready to fix his agency, which has come under scrutiny after a leaked inspector general report in June showed massive failure within the agency's front lines and left it with a "dismal report card."
The leaked report found that TSA officers failed to confiscate smuggled fake explosives and weapons in 67 of 70 covert tests.
"My highest priority is to ensure solutions to the recent covert testing failures," TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing Wednesday. "It disturbs me we had that failure rate at the checkpoint."
Just four weeks into his job, Neffenger has been tasked to ensure skeptical lawmakers who are wondering if the agency, created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has what it takes to keep Americans safe from terrorism at airports and in the sky.
"In the past few months, TSA has given us concern rather than confidence," said committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas. "We have long known that our aviation sector is the crown jewel of terrorist targets, so as we stare down these real and growing threats, Congress and the American people need confidence in our defenses."
Neffenger told lawmakers that he's ready for the agency to prove its worth and said he intends the agency to have "trained the failure out" of its front-line officers within the next 60 days.
In addition, he wants the agency to make more use of its PreCheck program, of which only 4 percent of travelers are currently enrolled.
"The goal is to have a fully vetted population through the PreCheck program," Neffenger said. "I want to separate a known population from the population I don't know about. I want to make [checkpoints] less invasive for the known population and lessen the burden on the TSA."
The House has focused on increasing the number of travelers enrolled in the program. On Monday, it passed the TSA PreCheck Expansion Act. The bill calls on the TSA to make it easier for travelers to enroll, specifically by the use of "online enrollment, kiosks, tablets or staffed laptop stations at which individuals can apply for entry."
And while lawmakers want the agency to fix its internal flaws, they also want it to look outside for help more often.
"I would like to explore how TSA can better leverage the private sector. The private sector plays a critically important role in securing our nation's aviation system. TSA does not and cannot fulfill its mission alone," McCaul said.
Using private companies more has drawn bipartisan consensus.
"I believe there is a place for the private sector, in particular dealing with technology," said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas.
The committee's top Democrat, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, also said the agency should look to small businesses that could "provide exceptional technologies that could be beneficial to TSA" and improve checkpoint efficiency.
Neffenger agreed with the lawmakers. "I think we could do a lot more to incentivize competition in the private sector," he said.
He said he looks forward to working with lawmakers to free up the agency's acquisition processes and would like his agency to follow the Department of Defense, which has relied on the private sector to keep up with technology that meets evolving threats.
"I am currently right now tied to a process that has me buying a lot of equipment that may be obsolete shortly after I buy it. I have to adapt continually to an evolving threat," Neffenger said.