One of the country's most important national security posts remains vacant. A single senator is holding up confirmation of the man nominated to head the Transportation Security administration.
50,000 Transportation Security officers screen, inspect, question, and observe at the nation's airports to keep dangerous people and items off planes. Senator Jim Demint believes giving them collective bargaining rights would hurt security.
"Collective bargaining would standardize things across the country, make it much less flexible, much harder for the agency to adapt to changing threats around the world," said Sen. Jim Demint, (R) South Carolina.
Harder, for instance, to react to something like the 2006 plot to blow up airplanes with liquid explosives. Within hours the T.S.A. ramped up security and changed policy to ban carry-on liquids. The union representing 12,000 TSO's says Demint's argument is rubbish, pointing out that employees of the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Protective Service, and others all have full union representation.
"You know no one talked about union membership when the cops and the firefighters went up the stairs at 9/11, the World Trade towers. No one talks about our two officers, two union members, who took down the shooter at Fort Hood. There was nothing in their union membership that stopped them from doing their duties," said John Gage with the American Federation of Government Employees.
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama wrote the union that giving TSO's collective bargaining rights would be a priority. Unions gave him valuable support in the election.
"It's all about politics, pay-back to the unions," Demint said. Demint pushed the issue at a hearing Wednesday. "How can unionization and collective bargaining enhance security at out airports?" asked Demint.
"Well, Senator, the answer is collective bargaining and security are not mutually exclusive concepts," said Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security.
Demint is holding up the confirmation of Erroll Southers to head the T.S.A. to make his point, though Southers has been noncommittal on the union issue, telling Demint he wouldn't recommend anything that would "potentially compromise the safety and security of the flying public."
"I think that the nominee understands the confirmation process, and that he doesn't want to say anything that is controversial, but ultimately, once he's confirmed, it's not going to be his choice. It's going to be the choice of the secretary and ultimately the choice of the president, and the president has made it clear where he stands," said James Sherk, with the Heritage Foundation.