Democrats need to stop blaming GOP for TSA failure 

A bizarre new line of attack is emanating from congressional Democrats reeling from concerns the Obama administration may not be doing enough to keep American air-travelers safe.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary's Janet Napolitano's bizarre "the system worked" statement regarding an Islamic radical who smuggled powerful explosives on board a U.S.-bound flight was swiftly condemned. Following that public debacle, Democrats are trying to blame the Transportation Safety Administration's total failure on Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. News items are starting to appear along these lines -- see this McClatchy story "Who's running the TSA? No one, thanks to Sen. Jim DeMint"; "Republican senator DeMint holds up nomination for TSA chief" at the Washington Post; and "GOP blame at TSA?" over at Politico. Our national security apparatus may be in disarray, but thank goodness the Democratic spin machine is in tip-top shape.
 
Democrats are trying to pin blame for the TSA breakdown on Sen. DeMint, R-S.C., who has placed a hold Erroll Southers, the Obama administration's nominee to head up the TSA. However, the Obama administration didn't even nominate Southers until September. It's pretty hard get indignant over DeMint for holding up Southers' nomination for three months -- if the post is so crucial, why did the Obama administration wait nine months to fill it? There are scores of other key administration positions that remain unfilled solely due to the Senate's obsessive health care focus, including a number of key Homeland Security and law enforcement positions.

Additionally, DeMint can't really be blamed for Southers being held-up as long as he has. Senate Democrats have devoted nearly every available bit of time for their health care legislation over the last several months. Surely the Senate Democratic leadership bears some blame for the fact that Southers' nomination hasn't been debated in the Senate.


Finally, DeMint's stated reason for putting a hold on Southers' nomination is a very valid national security concern. Southers' refuses to state whether he will allow the unionization of TSA employees. Currently, there's a statement on the TSA website opposing collective bargaining from the Bush administration. TSA effectiveness depends on rapid response to emerging threats. After a British bomb plot was broken up in 2006, TSA overhauled its policies in 12 hours to deal with new concerns about liquid explosives. It's hard to imagine that kind of flexibility under union rules.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was fairly blunt about the risks of unionizing TSA employees: "I'm not going to negotiate our national security or subject our national security to arbitration. Marines don't collectively bargain over whether they're, you know, going to end up being deployed in Anbar province or Baghdad."

And as I noted yesterday, DeMint questioned Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano earlier this month about her support for unionizing TSA employees. He asked her specifically how unionizing employees was consistent with safety, when "every previous administrator at TSA has said that collective bargaining is not consistent with the flexibility and the need to change." Napolitano did not answer the question.

So before Democrats point the finger at Sen. DeMint they owe the American people answers to two questions -- one, if the lack of a TSA administrator is a crucial matter of national security, why did they wait so long to fill the post? And two, in light of TSA's abysmal failure regarding the Christmas Day underwear bomber, how would a radical change such as unionization of TSA make things better when it's consistently been opposed as matter of maintaining security standards and retaining flexibility?

I suspect Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration would rather point at Senator DeMint and shout "Hey, look over here!" than answer either of those pressing questions.

-- Beltway Confidential

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Mark Hemingway

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