After String of Security Lapses at Newark Airport, TSA Official in Charge Promoted

Newark Liberty International
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More than 33 million passengers moved through Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey in 2009. (Photo: EWR)

( The Transportation Security Administration appointed as a senior adviser at its D.C. headquarters an official who requested reassignment after quitting as federal security director of Newark Liberty International Airport, following a string of security lapses.

Barbara Powell, who served as TSA’s security director at the New Jersey airport since July 2007, has been promoted to the post of “senior adviser in the Office of Human Capital,” TSA said in a statement this week.

Before she left the Newark post, Powell was reportedly the subject of a blistering internal critique that found “inconsistent leadership” under her watch and “a work environment that is often fueled by fear of reprisal and retaliation.”

Powell has worked at the TSA for nine years, having also served as deputy security director at Newark Liberty and deputy assistant administrator for TSA’s Office of Security Technology.

When Powell announced her resignation as federal security director (FSD) to the 1,400 TSA employees at the Newark airport, she acknowledged the security lapses that had taken place there.

“Barbara Powell believes a good leader knows when it’s time to step up and when it’s time to step aside,” TSA said in a statement. “After nearly four years as FSD at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and nine years with TSA, Powell recently requested a reassignment within TSA and has been granted a position as a senior adviser in the Office of Human Capital.”

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“Capitalizing on her experience as an attorney, she looks forward to bringing her years of field experience to TSA headquarters,” it added. “She remains very proud of the TSA workforce at Newark Liberty and continues to champion what is best for them, the agency and the security of the traveling public.”

TSA spokesperson Ann Davis told it was speculative to say that the security breaches at the airport had anything to do with Powell’s reassignment. Davis said her request to be relocated was the reason for her move.

Asked who made the decision to move her to the Arlington, Va. headquarters, Davis said “Powell requested a reassignment within TSA and it was granted – so the decision was hers.”

In response to a query about Powell’s duties and salary as a senior adviser, Davis said would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain that information.

Davis said TSA was taking steps to prevent future security lapses at the Newark airport, adding that “leadership, managers and supervisors have met several times to discuss ways to improve operations and mitigate issues at the checkpoint.”

“Decisions have been made that will foster improved communications, collaboration, consistency, discipline, accountability, staffing and training. To ensure everyone remains focused on this effort going forward, TSA EWR leadership has also formed a working group, consisting of senior leadership, managers and supervisors, to develop action plans on remaining issues and monitor progress.”

On April 15, the Star-Ledger reported there had been five security breaches at EWR within 30 days. The included a case in which a dead dog did not undergo screening, a knife passed through security, and two individuals were allowed to go through screening despite problems with their full-body scans.

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Following Powell’s resignation, the paper reported Wednesday that an analysis of security operations, conducted by her own team, found that under her leadership there had been “poor communication, inconsistent leadership, substandard hiring and promotions, lack of guidance and direction” that affected work performance.

The analysis described “a work environment that is often fueled by fear of reprisal and retaliation.”

The Star-Ledger report on Wednesday also quoted from a resignation email Powell sent to TSA employees at the airport the previous day, in which she referred to security lapses.

She cited the case of United Airlines Flight 93, which after taking off from the airport on September 11, 2001 was hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists and crashed into a Pennsylvania field.

“Even in adversity, Team EWR demonstrates its commitment to ensuring that it will never happen again — Not on Our Watch,” Powell wrote in the email.

She also mentioned an embarrassing January 2010 incident involving a Rutgers University graduate who slipped through an unmanned TSA security checkpoint to give his departing girlfriend a last goodbye kiss. The airport was closed, scores of flights were delayed and thousands of passengers stranded. As a result of the incident, TSA found that its security cameras were not working.

TSA announced on Tuesday that Donald Drummer would be replacing Powell in the Newark post.

Drummer has been acting FSD at Baltimore Washington International Airport  since last February, before which he served as deputy FSD at John F. Kennedy International Airport since January 2010.

TSA is a component of the Department of Homeland Security.

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Source material can be found at this site.

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