Officials at the Transportation Security Administration thought they had the solution for long lines at airports: PreCheck, a program that allowed people to move through security without taking off their shoes or removing electronics from their luggage.
It has not worked as planned.
Customers who apply for the program, which requires a fee of $85 and a background check, say they continue to face long waits to obtain the PreCheck clearance. Such delays could grow worse because the number of people signing up for PreCheck has more than tripled in the last few months, climbing to 16,000 a day on average in May, agency officials said.
That surge has led to long delays in processing applications. Dozens of passengers who have recently tried to sign up for PreCheck say they have been given appointments for the in-person interviews needed to complete the process that are weeks or even months away.
Vance Hiner of St. Louis said he was put on a three-month waiting list at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport to complete his enrollment.
“The process of looking at my face and verifying that my passport and driver’s license match could be done by literally any security-cleared airport staffer,” he said in an email.
Roger Golliver of Beaverton, Ore., a suburb of Portland, said his wife signed up for the PreCheck program in March. But she had to wait months for an interview.
“The earliest she could find was a July date in Seattle,” he said. Seattle is about a three-hour drive from Portland.
Officials at the T.S.A. and MorphoTrust USA, the company that handles all PreCheck applications, say they are aware of the problems and are working to increase the number of enrollment centers while hiring additional people to deal with the surge in applications.
“We are adding as much capacity as quickly as possible,” said John Sammon, the chief marketing officer for the T.S.A.
Charles Carroll, senior vice president for identity services at MorphoTrust, said the company was hiring additional staff to bolster its efforts at the 14 biggest airports, including in New York and Chicago, where 450 passengers at Chicago O’Hare International Airport missed their flights last month because of long lines.
“We’re in emergency response mode,” Mr. Carroll said. “T.S.A. was caught off guard by the size and amount of people traveling.”
The agency has made some improvements in reducing wait times at airports. It has increased overtime for screeners and moved dozens of bomb-sniffing dog teams to larger airports from smaller ones. On the busy Memorial Day weekend, few travelers reported a long wait.
More help is on the way. This year, Congress allowed the agency to use $34 million to hire nearly 800 new screeners. And lawmakers recently approved an additional $28 million that will allow the agency to convert 2,784 screeners from part time to full time, which will add 53 security lanes at the nation’s airports.
Some members of Congress and many in the travel industry wonder if the efforts will be sustainable throughout the peak of summer travel. “T.S.A. cannot continue to rely on temporary Band-Aids by moving around limited Homeland Security dollars,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi.
John S. Pistole, the former T.S.A. administrator who started the PreCheck program, argued that using risk-based intelligence to screen and move low-risk passengers through security checkpoints was a better way to protect airports. Information provided by those who sign up for PreCheck is checked against the F.B.I.’s criminal history databases as well as several terrorist screening databases and no-fly lists.
The initial challenge was the reverse of today: The T.S.A. could not persuade enough people to sign up for PreCheck, and at many airports the PreCheck lanes were empty as regular security lines backed up.
So the agency started a program called managed inclusion, which allowed people who had not signed up for the program to go through expedited screening when regular lines grew long.
An investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found that screeners allowed investigators with fake bombs and weapons to pass through checkpoints in 95 percent of the tests, a finding first reported by ABC News last year.
Peter V. Neffenger, who took over the agency last July, ended the practice of managed inclusion. But fixing that problem has contributed to the long security lines that the agency is now trying to solve.
On Wednesday, Kelly Hoggan, who had been the assistant administrator for the Office of Security Operations for the T.S.A. since 2013, resigned. Mr. Hoggan had been reassigned in May after a backlash over long security lines at airports and congressional scrutiny of thousands of dollars in bonuses he had received.
Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, is trying to enlist help from the private sector to persuade more people to sign up for PreCheck. In a letter to the 100 largest American companies, he asked that they reimburse employees for signing up for expedited screening programs.
The agency is also seeking additional vendors, in addition to MorphoTrust, to help process PreCheck enrollment. Still, it is unclear if those efforts will be enough to reduce the long lines expected at airports this summer.
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