TSA: Chicago security director quitting; was at helm of airports fiasco

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByChuck Goudie, Ross Weidner and Barb Markoff WLS logo
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Kathleen Petrowsky.
Kathleen Petrowsky.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Transportation Security Administration on Tuesday confirmed an I-Team report that the agency's top TSA official in Chicago was resigning.

"Kathleen Petrowsky announced her plans to retire effective June 30, following a 37-year career in Federal service," said Michael McCarthy, TSA spokesperson. "We thank Ms. Petrowsky for her many years of dedicated service to TSA's mission."

The I-Team first reported Monday night that Petrowsky was quitting, a little more than six weeks after O'Hare and Midway became national symbols of a TSA screening fiasco. Seemingly endless security lines snaking through both airports resulted in traveler waits of two hours or more, said to be the culmination of staffing problems and heavy passenger loads. However, some critics pinned the debacle on local and national agency management.

Petrowsky, 58, sent an email to Chicago staffers on Sunday informing them of her imminent departure. She has been with TSA since its inception and the head of O'Hare and Midway security operations since 2007.

"This is to let you know that I have decided to retire on June 30, after 37 years of Federal [sic] government service," Petrowsky wrote in her email, a copy of which was obtained by the I-Team and verified with federal sources.

"I have been proud to serve as your colleague since TSA was formed, and since 2007 as your FSD (Federal Security Director)," she stated.

Although her resignation does not mention the agonizing delays for passengers waiting in lines that stretched through corridors and into parking lots-then missing flights and sleeping on airport cots, the timing is conspicuous. Petrowsky was not being made available for interviews on Tuesday and has not returned messages left for her by the I-Team.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall last month when her boss TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger came to Chicago to meet with local officials and express regret for the problem, but she was not present for the public mea culpa.

TSA officials blamed a staffing shortage and higher passenger numbers and then said they would reposition 100 part-time officers to Chicago airports on full-time status. They also brought in a new management team, which didn't bode well for Petrowsky as well.

Since the initial meltdown in Chicago and some other U.S. airports, TSA has managed to retool passenger screening operations and bring down the lines.

She isn't the only TSA brass tarnished by the missteps and angry passengers. When thousands of travelers were still at the boiling point, TSA replaced its former national head of security, Kelly Hoggan, who according to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform received more than $90,000 in bonuses from 2013 to late 2014.

Prior to being named to the top spot, Petrowsky had been serving as the deputy federal security director for O'Hare since August 2005. She was also the assistant federal security director of operations, overseeing human resources, finance, the 24-hour operations center, and customer service and stakeholder liaison offices. Prior to joining TSA, she was with the Federal Aviation Administration as the federal security manager assigned to O'Hare International Airport.

While with the FAA, she also worked in the fields of security liaison, regulatory enforcement and investigations.