Law enforcement group pushes air marshal chief for TSA

Washington (CNN) - A key association of law enforcement officers urged the White House Tuesday to tap the country's federal air marshal director to head the Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, does not have a permanent director. Two Obama administration nominees have withdrawn from consideration for the post. The second nominee withdrew his name from consideration last week after acknowledging that his security company overbilled the government for work performed in Iraq in 2004.

"TSA cannot continue to operate on auto-pilot," said Jon Adler, head of the 25,000-member Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. "The leadership void needs to be filled now by an experienced nominee."

Adler recommended Robert Bray, who has been head of the Federal Air Marshal Service since June 2008. Bray had a 20-year career with the Secret Service in which he was assigned to offices in Denver, Colorado; Palm Springs, California; Tulsa, Oklahoma and Washington D.C.

Bray "has the requisite aviation security skill set that the position of TSA administrator demands," Adler said.

Maj. Gen. Robert Harding, the White House's second nominee for the post, withdrew from consideration Friday shortly after acknowledging that he made "mistakes" when a company he formed overbilled the government in 2004.

At issue was a contract that Harding's company, Harding Security Associates, signed with the Defense Department in early 2004 to provide 40 interrogators and debriefers rapidly in Iraq.

Within four months of his firm starting work on the contract, Harding said, the government decided to end the contract. Harding said he told his employees "that I would take care of them, and that I would negotiate and work with the government to provide severance payments." The total severance payments came to about $800,000, he claimed.

"When I went to claim it from the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency]," government auditors "recognized that I did not have a policy on that, that I had not negotiated with the government for severance, I had not provided the government my plan for severance ... and therefore it was not allowed, that $800,000."

Roughly $2.4 million of the $6 million HSA was paid by the government was eventually called into question. An independent investigation concluded that no fraud was involved. HSA ultimately reached a settlement with the government, paying back $1.8 million of the disputed $2.4 million.

Harding said that government auditors subsequently admitted "there were mistakes on both sides."

The White House said it was "disappointed" at Harding's withdrawal.

Sen. James DeMint, R-South Carolina, put a hold on President Barack Obama's first TSA nominee, Erroll Southers, after Southers declined to say whether he supported unionization of screeners.

Southers eventually withdrew his name from consideration after another controversy erupted involving a decades-old personnel matter.

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