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TSA chief can’t say security lines will be fixed anytime soon

Transportation Security Administration chief Peter Neffenger, second from right, responds to a question at O'Hare International Airport on the massive delays at airport security lines in Chicago and across the country Friday, May 20, 2016, in Chicago. Joining Neffenger are from left, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., Neffenger, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The head of the Transportation Security Administration warned the traveling public Friday during a news conference at O’Hare International Airport that “the summer will continue to be a challenge,” offering no assurances that the problem of long waiting lines will be fixed anytime soon.

Peter Neffenger said TSA staffing levels nationwide aren’t yet where they need to be. But he shot down an idea floated by several aldermen this week that security at city airports should be privatized.

“You’ll still see crowds in airports [in the summer], but my goal is to keep you moving,” Neffenger said, standing with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, among others. “We can’t have a situation like we had here in Chicago again.”

Neffenger was referring to the snaking security lines in recent days at O’Hare that have forced thousands to miss their flights.

Emanuel, coming from a “round table” discussion on how to improve passenger flow, had harsh words for the TSA and promised to keep a scorecard to make sure the agency is following up on promises to beef up staffing levels in Chicago.

“Some of this could have been avoided, and management of this has not been up to snuff,” Emanuel said.

Earlier this week, Emanuel made it clear he had no appetite for privatizing airport screening, only to hold open the possibility after four aldermen championed the idea in a City Council resolution.

On Friday, Emanuel was back to dismissing the idea on grounds that hiring private contractors would take two years to accomplish and was therefore not an immediate solution to accommodate the summer travel crunch.

Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans went a step further. She said the mere threat of privatization would make an already difficult problem infinitely worse.

“Talk about a morale problem for TSA. That’s a huge morale problem. If you tell them that they’re gonna lose their jobs, then of course they’re gonna leave. So you have to be really careful about how you approach these things, ” Evans said.

The commissioner went on to detail why privatization is no panacea.

“You still have the same screener cap. You have the same TSA supervision. So, the benefits are very marginal. And there’s a huge cost and time associated with the transition,” she said.

“We’re not closing the door. We’ll evaluate it along with other things for the long term. But there’s a lot of other technology improvements that deserve more focus than that.”