The Senate in a voice vote confirmed John Pistole Friday as head of the Transportation Security Administration, ending an 18-month search for the boss of the federal agency that oversees security at the nation's airports.
Mr. Pistole, currently the No. 2 official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, will seek to overhaul an agency buffeted by criticism from media and lawmakers that grew especially intense in the wake of the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound jetliner.
Government auditors have also criticized the TSA in recent months. One report said the explosives detectors the TSA plans to widely deploy would not have caught the Christmas Day bomber. Another criticized the TSA for the way it has put in place a new program, known as "SPOT," that uses agents to detect suspicious behavior by people inside airports.
"He's going to really need to take stock: What do we know about how well the system is working?" said Cathal Flynn, former head of security at the Federal Aviation Administration.
Mr. Pistole breezed through the nomination process with broad, bipartisan support, and sidestepped an issue—collective-bargaining rights for TSA employees—that helped trip up two prior nominees. Senators from both sides of the aisle lauded Mr. Pistole's 27-year career with the FBI and his particular experience in counterterrorism.
"As a career law-enforcement official, Mr. Pistole is the right person for this demanding post," said Susan Collins (R., Maine), the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Some security experts, however, worried that Mr. Pistole's lack of experience with aviation security could be a handicap. The TSA has responsibility for all modes of transportation, but airport security is the agency's most visible job.
"I'd rather see someone with more aviation experience who could hit the ground running," said Douglas Laird, a former Secret Service agent and now an aviation-security consultant. "He'll find a very daunting, difficult task facing him on multiple levels," he said.
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