Nominees for key Homeland Security posts remain unconfirmed

The Senate returns to work this week with a handful of President Obama's nominees for positions at the Homeland Security Department still in limbo, two of whom ran into problems before the August recess.

Two of the most significant nominations still awaiting Senate confirmation are Rafael Borras to be undersecretary of Homeland Security for management and Tara O'Toole to be undersecretary for the department's Science and Technology Directorate.

Borras ran into problems because he failed to pay some taxes in 2005 and 2006.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, ranking member of the panel's Oversight of Government Management Subcommittee, expressed concerns over the tax issue during his confirmation hearing in late July.

Those concerns appear to be unresolved, at least for Collins. She and her staff were still gathering facts, her spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Borras informed the committee that he failed to account for about $9,300 in income from his wife's part-time work on his 2005 federal income tax return.

He also failed to report in his 2006 filing that his wife took out about $6,000 in taxable income from her individual retirement account. And he failed to include interest income of about $1,000 in 2006 taxes.

"What concerns me is the pattern of carelessness here," Collins said at the confirmation hearing. "You have been nominated for a job that is enormously complex and that is going to require great managerial experience and great attention to detail."

"If there had been just one incident or one form overlooked I could certainly understand that," she added. "But I'm concerned about a pattern of significant lapse with regard to your taxes."

Voinovich, speaking at the hearing, added: "I just cannot understand this pattern. It gives me pause. If you're not paying attention to details concerning your personal matters, are you going to pay attention to details concerning the department?"

Borras called the missed payments a regrettable oversight and said he has paid what he owed. He said he never had any other tax problems, adding that in his 27 years of professional work, there has never been a problem with his ability to address details.

He previously served as regional administrator for the mid-Atlantic region of the General Services Administration and as deputy assistant secretary for administration at the Commerce Department.

O'Toole, who now directs the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Center for Biosecurity, faced criticism from Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who questioned her scientific integrity. Levin said she appeared prone to exaggerate some of her findings.

But Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman and Collins defended her and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted to recommend her confirmation.

A spokesman for Levin said last week the senator has not put a hold on O'Toole's nomination, which has been placed on the Senate calendar for consideration.

Another major Homeland Security vacancy exists at the Transportation Security Administration, which is awaiting a nominee for the administrator's post.

The leading candidate for the position is Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent who serves as chief of intelligence and counterterrorism at Los Angeles International Airport.

The White House would not confirm whether President Obama would nominate Southers. But word last month that Southers would get the nod was greeted favorably by the American Federation of Government Employees, which has about 11,000 dues-paying members working at TSA.

"We are very pleased that the administration has heard AFGE on the dire need for a TSA administrator to be appointed," said John Gage, AFGE president. "We look forward to working with Mr. Southers to turn this agency around to one that its employees and the American public can be proud of."

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