By Anne Szmul, National News Editor
In his final address as Transportation Security Administration administrator, Peter Neffenger spoke on November 29 to an audience in Jubilee Hall. His talk focused on the entrepreneurial evolution of the agency which had been created in response to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. The task of securing America’s pipelines, aviation, and all forms of freight and passenger transportation in the country is the responsibility the TSA, under Neffenger’s administration.
The idea that entrepreneurial thought thrives on change, as opposed to trench thinking, became central to Neffenger’s strategy regarding the future of the agency. He sought to begin this process by finding leaders and creative people from within. One of the first big accomplishments of his leadership was the founding of the TSA Academy located in Georgia.
Neffenger joined the TSA in July 2015, after serving as Vice Commandant of the United States Coast Guard as well as serving in other positions. In 2010, he served as the Deputy National Incident Commander for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
At the time of his onboarding, TSA agents screened around two million travelers per day. Neffenger was challenged with a widespread negative public image on the organization. To begin to turn this image around, Neffenger continued to empower his people.
Another innovation for the agency was the introduction of automated screening lanes. These lanes, already in use in several airports, were made possible by involving the private sector. Delta was the first airline to partner with the TSA. The airline purchased the new technology last year, buying two lanes for its terminal in Atlanta and gifting the lanes to the government and TSA. These lanes work to reduce airport checkpoint lines and improve airport security. The lanes have just a nine-week implementation time. The technology is spreading to other airports within the United States, including the United Airlines terminal at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Even as Neffenger’s time with the TSA comes to an end, he leaves behind an “innovation catalyst” in the form of an innovation task force. This group seeks to continue improving their systems while not impeding operations.
The importance of being adaptive apply as terrorists too are very flexible in their attacks. At the end of his presentation, Neffenger highlighted his strategy for creating ongoing entrepreneurship within the TSA. The first points were featured prominently throughout his address, including connecting to the agencies’ mission, identifying talented and creative people from within the organization and give them permission to innovate, and showing “early wins” in implementation to demonstrate that change is good. Lastly, he advised to not blame individuals for failures of the organization, and to embrace crisis as a means to discovering long term solutions.
The evening saw a delayed start, as the administrator suffered an hour transportation delay due to the weather. While waiting, students heard from several speakers, including Seton Hall alumni and staff, before Neffenger spoke. After a brief address from Andrea Bartoli, Dean of the School of Diplomacy, Professor Sara Moller spoke on challenges for a Trump administration. Moller studies defense and collective security, and has been with Seton Hall for two years. Father Brian Muzas, another professor in the diplomacy school, gave the invocation.
Two Seton Hall alum were also part of the event. Christine Griggs, class of 1991, reports to Neffenger at the TSA and manages five divisions in the agency. She spoke on the development of the agency since she started in 2002. Griggs emphasized the necessity to evolve with the threats. Speaking to all the students, she gave advice on the transition into professional careers, to keep an open attitude towards new challenges, and to explore options.
Introducing Neffenger, Mohamad Mirghahari attended Seton Hall for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees, completing the latter in 2004. He is now the Senior Advisor to the Chief of Staff at the TSA and, like Griggs, works under Administrator Neffenger. Mirghahari has worked 13 years in the Department of Defense and was a 2016 recipient of the Secretary of Defense Medal. As a proud Pirate, he encouraged the administrator to give his final address at Seton Hall.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, December 10th print edition.
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