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THE NATION

Transportation Security Chief Quits Amid Turmoil

Terrorism: Congress and airlines had complained TSA was not up to task. Deputy is nominated.

July 19, 2002|RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — After only seven months on the job, the head of the Transportation Security Administration resigned under pressure Thursday amid widespread concerns about the huge new federal law enforcement agency, said administration and congressional officials.

No reason was publicly given for the departure of John W. Magaw, a career Secret Service executive with a distinguished record.

However, members of Congress, the airlines and airport organizations have been complaining that the TSA seemed overwhelmed by the challenge of taking over aviation security and was isolating itself from its key constituencies. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta asked for and received Magaw's resignation, officials said.

The new TSA nominee is James M. Loy, who retired May 30 as Coast Guard commandant and has the transportation background that Magaw, a law enforcement professional, lacked.

Loy, 59, recently had been named Magaw's deputy and the TSA's chief operating officer. At the time, department officials insisted that Loy's appointment did not signal a loss of confidence in Magaw. Barely six weeks later, it all changed.

"Mr. Magaw's resignation is not surprising," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that controls the agency's budget. "The TSA has experienced setbacks in trying to secure the nation's air transportation system."

Other lawmakers seemed reluctant to criticize Magaw, 66, after his resignation. Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), Murray's counterpart in the House, previously had clashed with Magaw concerning agency spending. But Thursday, Rogers complimented him.

"I applaud John Magaw's faithful and diligent service to our country," Rogers said. "His efforts have helped to restore confidence in the traveling public and have strengthened the security of the nation's transportation system."

In an official statement, Mineta praised both men. "John Magaw is a dedicated public servant with a lifetime of achievements in the law enforcement field, and we all owe him a debt of service for his role in the start-up phase of TSA," he said. "Adm. Loy has amply demonstrated his ability to motivate and manage a large federal agency when he was commandant of the Coast Guard. Jim Loy is the right man for this job, at the right time."

"The president very much appreciates the job that John Magaw did," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters traveling with President Bush on Air Force One, "taking an agency that had no structure, no formation, no form to it, and making great strides and progress on behalf of the country and the traveling public at the Transportation Security Administration."

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, who heads a national task force on airport security, said Magaw had been responsive to cities. "He was a very strong ally of mayors across America. I hope the new head of TSA will be just as accessible and responsive."

Created to prevent another terrorist attack on aviation, the TSA still is virtually unknown by most Americans. That will quickly change as the agency assumes control of security at 429 airports.

But the agency is struggling, as Congress has set what are widely viewed as unrealistic deadlines for deployment. By Nov. 19, the TSA must take over all passenger security checkpoints, and by Dec. 31 it must install technology to screen all checked luggage--1 billion bags a year--for explosives. Its annual budget has ballooned from an estimated $4 billion to more than $6.6 billion, and estimates of its screener work force exceed 60,000.

The TSA is charged with improving security in all forms of transportation, including ports, rail, trucking, mass transit and pipelines.

Although aviation has consumed most of the agency's energies, the TSA and Magaw alienated the industry, officials said.

John Meenan, a senior vice president of the Air Transport Assn., an industry trade group, said Magaw dismissed the ATA's attempts to help.

In an interview, Meenan said: "We met with him shortly after his appointment and we said, 'Look, you are being asked to impose a security regime over what is probably the most complex business enterprise in the world. You need a culture within TSA that puts equal value on people with law enforcement backgrounds and those with an understanding of how the air transportation system works.'

"That view was pretty much flat-out rejected: They built an exclusively law enforcement organization where the culture is not inviting to people from any other environment."

Magaw began his law enforcement career as an Ohio state trooper in 1959, rising to become Secret Service director. He often compared his TSA job to building a car while it is traveling at 65 mph. At the TSA, he was skeptical of a "trusted traveler" program supported by the airline industry, and he ruled against providing pilots with firearms in cockpits.

Loy, who retired as a four-star admiral, was in the Coast Guard 38 years. He is credited with modernizing the service as its mission expanded beyond search and rescue. In a recent interview, Mineta said Loy would bring needed managerial and people skills to the TSA.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), whose panel will hold confirmation hearings on Loy's nomination, called him "an outstanding individual" who is "well suited to head the agency." Now part of the Transportation Department, the TSA is expected to form the largest unit of the proposed Department of Homeland Security.

Times staff writers Richard Simon and Edwin Chen in Washington and Jennifer Oldham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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