5 years, 1 firing: TSA shakeup highlights how rarely its execs get canned

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TSA Security Chief Forced Out as Outrage Grows Over Long Lines

What does it take to get fired from the top ranks of the Transportation Security Agency?

It's hard to tell — because it happens so infrequently.

Related: Congress Rips TSA for Long Lines, Abuse, 'Smurfing' Bonus Practices

The agency, under fire for long lines at airport checkpoints, security miscues, high turnover rates, retaliation against whistle blowers and lack of accountability for senior staff, has terminated one executive in the past five years, according to data provided to NBC News by the federal Office of Personnel Management.

By comparison, 6,889 employees who worked under those executives were fired during that time.

That discrepancy became particularly relevant this week, after TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger announced that he had reassigned the agency's head of security, Kelly Hoggan.

Related: TSA around the country:

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5 years, 1 firing: TSA shakeup highlights how rarely its execs get canned
FILE - In this Nov. 21, 2014 file photo, a TSA agent checks a bag at a security checkpoint area at Midway International Airport in Chicago. Spending for the Homeland Security Department hangs in the balance as Congress fights over unrelated immigration provisions attached by Republicans to the agency’s annual spending bill. In the view of some House conservatives, though, shutting off the agency’s budget is “not the end of the world.“ What would happen if Congress fails to reach a deal to renew homeland security spending by Feb. 27? (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 24, 2015, a passenger shows a boarding pass to a TSA agent at a security check-point at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
A TSA officer hand checks a purse, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Transportation Security Inspector Cara Ropp and Nestle check out passengers at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015 in Romulus, Mich. The TSA showed off Nestle who is being used to detect explosives and explosive components at the airport. The passenger screening canines, or PSCs, are being used to identify and locate potential explosive threats at security checkpoints. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Journalist Justin Gray stopped by TSA agent who didn't know District of Columbia was in US --> http://t.co/44svhkryP7 http://t.co/VzhaYcgRdY
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Luggage moves through a new explosives detection system at the Newark Liberty International Airport on May 1, 2014 in New York City. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), now uses the automated in-line baggage system at the airport's Terminal C. The system uses about a mile of conveyor belts to automatically screen, sort and track baggage. Nine explosives detection machines can screen more than 600 pieces of luggage per hour. If a bag requires additional screening, it is automatically diverted to a separate room where it is manually screened by TSA officers. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
A TSA agent waits for approval to release travelers as they go through airport security at the screening area of the Richmond International airport in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. The Obama administration's top transportation security official on Monday urged passengers angry over safety procedures not to boycott airport body scans. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A young traveler hands over his travel document to a TSA agent at Love Field airport in Dallas, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. More than 43 million people are to travel over the long holiday weekend, according to AAA. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
CHICAGO, IL - MAY 23: A TSA agent checks luggage as passengers arrive for flights at O'Hare International Airport May 23, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago's O'Hare and Midway International Airports expect 1.5 million passengers over a six-day travel period covering Memorial Day weekend beginning Thursday, May 22 and running through Tuesday, May 27. AAA forecasts the number of drivers taking to the roads for the holiday will hit a 10-year high, with roughly eight in ten Americans taking road trips during the long weekend. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
BOSTON - MAY 13: At Logan Airport Terminal a sign points to the new TSA New Pre Check Enrollment Center at Logan Airport. The TSA Administrator John S. Pistole was on hand to introduce the new center. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Luggage moves through a new explosives detection system at the Newark Liberty International Airport on May 1, 2014 in New York City. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), now uses the automated in-line baggage system at the airport's Terminal C. The system uses about a mile of conveyor belts to automatically screen, sort and track baggage. Nine explosives detection machines can screen more than 600 pieces of luggage per hour. If a bag requires additional screening, it is automatically diverted to a separate room where it is manually screened by TSA officers. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Luggage moves through a new explosives detection system at the Newark Liberty International Airport on May 1, 2014 in New York City. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), now uses the automated in-line baggage system at the airport's Terminal C. The system uses about a mile of conveyor belts to automatically screen, sort and track baggage. Nine explosives detection machines can screen more than 600 pieces of luggage per hour. If a bag requires additional screening, it is automatically diverted to a separate room where it is manually screened by TSA officers. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Luggage moves through a new explosives detection system at the Newark Liberty International Airport on May 1, 2014 in New York City. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), now uses the automated in-line baggage system at the airport's Terminal C. The system uses about a mile of conveyor belts to automatically screen, sort and track baggage. Nine explosives detection machines can screen more than 600 pieces of luggage per hour. If a bag requires additional screening, it is automatically diverted to a separate room where it is manually screened by TSA officers. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Luggage moves through a new explosives detection system at the Newark Liberty International Airport on May 1, 2014 in New York City. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), now uses the automated in-line baggage system at the airport's Terminal C. The system uses about a mile of conveyor belts to automatically screen, sort and track baggage. Nine explosives detection machines can screen more than 600 pieces of luggage per hour. If a bag requires additional screening, it is automatically diverted to a separate room where it is manually screened by TSA officers. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Luggage moves through a new explosives detection system at the Newark Liberty International Airport on May 1, 2014 in New York City. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), now uses the automated in-line baggage system at the airport's Terminal C. The system uses about a mile of conveyor belts to automatically screen, sort and track baggage. Nine explosives detection machines can screen more than 600 pieces of luggage per hour. If a bag requires additional screening, it is automatically diverted to a separate room where it is manually screened by TSA officers. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20: A TSA arm patch is seen at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on February 20, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson is viewing Transportation Security Administration security operations and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Facility at LAX, and will meet with the Joint Regional Intelligence Center in Los Angeles on his two-day visit to southern California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20: Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson greets TSA agents after addressing a press conference at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on February 20, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Johnson is viewing Transportation Security Administration security operations and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Facility at LAX, and will meet with the Joint Regional Intelligence Center in Los Angeles on his two-day visit to southern California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A TSA agents directs travelers lined up to have their travel documents checked at Love Field airport in Dallas, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. More than 43 million people are to travel over the long holiday weekend, according to AAA. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Travelers cue up to have their travel documents checked by TSA agents at Love Field airport in Dallas, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. More than 43 million people are to travel over the long holiday weekend, according to AAA. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
TSA agents pause for a moment of silence in honor for their fallen colleague Gerardo Hernandez at Los Angeles International Airport Friday, Nov 8, 2013. Airports around the nation observed a moment of silence Friday to honor the Transportation Security Administration officer killed by a gunman at Los Angeles International Airport a week ago. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
TSA agents at Omaha's Eppley Airfield instruct passengers to move back Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, as one of the terminals was evacuated and shut down when a suspicious item was spotted in a piece of luggage. The federal Transportation Security Agency says it called for the evacuation of the airport's north terminal around noon after x-ray screening workers saw an item in a carry-on bag. Officials have not said what the item was. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
A TSA agent inspects a passenger's ID at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2009, in Linthicum, Md. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
An agent with the Transportation Security Administration works with a passenger at JetBlue Airways' new Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008 in New York. The TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
An agent with the Transportation Security Administration works with passengers at JetBlue Airways' new Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008 in New York. The TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
A passenger collects her carry-on luggage after passing through a security check point at JetBlue Airways' new Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008 in New York. The agent at left works for the Transportation Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
A traveler is patted down by a TSA agent as they go through security at the Salt Lake City International Airport Wednesday, June 1, 2011, in Salt Lake City. A Utah lawmaker wants to make it illegal for federal Transportation Security Administration workers to pat down travelers at the state's airports without probable cause. (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart)
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Hoggan had become a public face for the security lines crisis — and for deeper problems in the agency. The House Oversight Committee last month questioned a $90,000 bonus he received in small, hard-to-track payments even as he oversaw what the panel called "significant security vulnerabilities."

Neffenger defended Hoggan in an appearance before the House Oversight Committee last week, saying he had no intention of firing him. But Neffenger said the manner in which Hoggan received his bonus — through a practice called "smurfing" — would end.

Hoggan, who makes $181,500 a year,could not be reached for comment.

The TSA did not respond directly to questions from NBCNews.com about the single firing, but pointed out that there are many more rank-and-file officers than there are executives.

Related: TSA Replaces Head of Security as Airport Lines Keep Getting Longer

Hoggan's transfer, and the growing public outcry about long checkpoint lines, are the latest in a series of crises to hit the TSA in recent years. Neffenger, a former Coast Guard commander, came on the job last summer following a string of security lapses that resulted in his predecessor, Melvin Carraway, getting reassigned to another post within the Department of Homeland Security.

Meanwhile the problems have continued to mount. The House Oversight Committee is investigating what it calls "a chilling culture of intimidation and retaliation." In April, TSA whistle blowers told the panel that the agency was rife with abuses of power.

The data on employee "separations" — covering 2011 to 2015 — provide a glimpse into that internal turbulence, in which experienced workers have departed the TSA in large numbers, making it more difficult to staff airport checkpoints.

The statistics show that the number of workers leaving the agency rose from 5,231 in 2011 to 7,607 last year. The agency currently has about 45,525 full-time staffers.

Those who simply walked way represent the largest loss of personnel. An average of 3,859 non-executive workers quit each year.

Of the 91 executives who left over the five-year period, 57 retired, 27 quit, five transferred and one died.

J. David Cox, Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents TSA rank-and-file workers, said the disparity was symbolic of "imbalance" at the agency.

"TSA officers are some of the lowest-paid employees in government, resulting in one of the highest turnover rates of any agency," Cox told NBC News in a statement Tuesday. "They are also on a completely different pay scale and lack even the most basic workplace protections enjoyed by other workers in the federal and private sectors. The high number of terminations in the TSA workforce is a potent symbol of this imbalance, and should be corrected to protect honest, hardworking employees from falling through the cracks."

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