Obama nominates FBI official to head Transportation Security

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama said Monday he will nominate FBI Deputy Director John Pistole to become the new head of the Transportation Security Administration.

The position has been vacant since Obama became president in January 2009, with an acting head in place. Two previous Obama nominees have withdrawn from consideration due to Republican opposition and controversial issues.

Pistole has been FBI deputy director since October 2004, and previously helped lead the investigation of the Egypt Air Flight 990 crash off Rhode Island in 1999.

"The talent and knowledge John has acquired in more than two decades of service with the FBI will make him a valuable asset to our administration's efforts to strengthen the security and screening measures at our airports," Obama said in a written statement. "I am grateful that he has agreed to take on this important role, and I look forward to working with him in the weeks and months ahead."

Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano immediately endorsed Pistole, calling him uniquely qualified for the job that involves counter-terrorism efforts.

"John's national security and counterterrorism expertise will be a great asset to the Department in our efforts to enhance the security of our vital transportation systems," Napolitano said in a statement.

Two senators involved in security issues - Republican Susan Collins of Maine and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut - also praised Pistole as a sound choice.

"Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, he has been on the forefront of our nation's fight against terrorism," Collins said in a statement, while Lieberman said Pistole "understands the threat of terrorism as well as anyone in the government."

The TSA, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, oversees national aviation safety. It has 60,000 employees, including the approximately 50,000 Transportation Security Officers who provide security at airport screening checkpoints and elsewhere.

Napolitano's statement said that if confirmed by the Senate, Pistole would oversee the Homeland Security Department's "ongoing efforts to secure the nation's aviation networks, railroads, ports and mass transit systems, security operations for 450 federalized airports throughout the nation, and the Federal Air Marshal Service."

The position has proven difficult to fill for Obama. His two previous nominees, Los Angeles Airport police department official Erroll Southers and retired Maj. Gen. Robert Harding both removed themselves from consideration for the post.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, put a hold on Southers' nomination after Southers declined to say whether he supported unionization of airport screeners. Southers eventually withdrew his name from consideration after another controversy erupted involving a decades-old personnel matter.

Harding, withdrew his name from consideration in March after acknowledging that his security company overbilled the government for work performed in Iraq in 2004.

At that time, the head of the 25,000-member Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Jon Adler, said the TSA "cannot continue to operate on autopilot."

On Monday, Adler said his organization fully supports Pistole's nomination.

"Since the last two nominees withdrew, we re-emphasized to Secretary Napolitano the need to select someone who combines a national law enforcement background with credible intel[ligence] experience," Adler said in an e-mail to CNN. "We are appreciative of her responsiveness to our recommendation. Deputy Director Pistole possesses the necessary skill set to lead TSA forward from a position of strength."

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