Friday night news dump: Obama’s second nominee for TSA head withdraws 

Obama’s second nominee to head the Transportation Safety Administration, Major General Robert Harding, has just withdrawn his name for the post:

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Harding took himself out of the running as head of the Transportation Security Administration, another setback for Obama after his first choice withdrew in January because he faced a tough confirmation struggle in Congress. The Obama administration has called the job the most important unfilled position on Obama’s team.

“I feel that the distractions caused by my work as a defense contractor would not be good for this administration nor for the Department of Homeland Security,” Harding said in a late-evening statement released by the White House. The agency is part of Homeland Security.

Harding had extensive intelligence experience that Obama hoped to tap in shoring up airport screening and other anti-terrorism transportation fronts. He retired from the Army in 2001, ending a three-decade career during which he served as the Defense Department’s top human intelligence officer, managing a $1 billion intelligence collection program.

Harding became a government consultant on human intelligence and counterintelligence, selling his company in 2009.

Questions arose after his nomination about a contract his company had with the government to provide interrogators in Iraq. After the government ended the contract early, in 2004, Harding Security Associates claimed more money from termination of the contract than the Defense Department’s inspector general said it was entitled to get. The firm refunded $1.8 million of that money in a 2008 settlement with the Defense Intelligence Agency.

This is the Obama administration’s second TSA nominee to withdraw. There was a good deal of concern over Obama’s first nominee to head the TSA, Erroll Southers. Southers refused to state a position on whether he favored the unionizing TSA employees. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., put a hold on Southers’ nomination, rightly claiming that his position on unionization was a matter of national security. There is a great deal of concern that union strictures would reduce the TSA’s ability to respond to evolving threats, and the agency is explicitly exempted from collective bargaining on these grounds.

Following the underwear bomber incident in late December, Democrats tried to blame Republican obstructionism for contributing to the national security failure. Of course, the Obama administration waited nine months to even put forward a name for the critical position. And then Democrats were left with egg on their faces when Southers abruptly withdrew his name for consideration in another Friday night news dump on New Year’s day. It turned out that Southers had likely lied about an incident where he illegally accessed law enforcement databases to spy on his ex-wife’s boyfriend, and may have broken laws in doing so.

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Mark Hemingway

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