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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Treading water isn't good enough

More than a year into President Obama's Administration - and three months after the Nigerian underwear bomber failed in his attempt to blow a U.S. airliner out of the sky over Detroit - the nation still doesn't have a top cop at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Why is the Administration having such a tough time filling this vital slot?

Robert Harding, the most recent nominee, withdrew from consideration last Friday after concerns were raised about government contracts he had received following his retirement from the Army. In withdrawing his nomination, Harding said the "distractions caused by my work as a defense contractor would not be good for this Administration, nor for the Department of Homeland Security." His withdrawal followed the similar fate two months earlier of former FBI agent Erroll Southers, after revelations that he had tapped into a federal database seeking information on his estranged wife's boyfriend. Southers had initially told Senators he asked a co-worker's husband in the San Diego police department to run a background check, but later admitted that he himself had conducted two database searches into the man's background. (See pictures of the so-called underwear bomber.)

Political considerations may well have played a role in the derailing of both nominations. When Southers withdrew, the White House issued a statement quoting him saying that his desire to serve "has been obstructed by political ideology." To be sure, the poisonous atmosphere on Capitol Hill has made it necessary for any candidate to be bulletproof in order to withstand partisan scrutiny. But it's clear that, despite the Obama Administration's reputation for scrubbing its candidates before nominating them, there appears to have been poor vetting in both these cases. "In this politically toxic environment, it only takes one thing to derail a nomination," says Richard Cooper, a former Department of Homeland Security official. "But there were a lot of outstanding questions about Harding's contracts." (continues here) 

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