AOL News (March 8) -- President Barack Obama is nominating a former senior Army intelligence officer to head the Transportation Security Administration, which has been under scrutiny since an al-Qaida bomber nearly blew up a passenger jetliner during a Christmas Day flight to Detroit.
Retired Major Gen. Robert A. Harding, who served 33 years in the Army before becoming a defense contractor, was announced as the TSA pick at a midday news conference today. "I am confident that Bob's talent and expertise will make him a tremendous asset in our ongoing efforts to bolster security and screening measures at our airports," Obama said in a written statement. "I can think of no one more qualified than Bob to take on this important job, and I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead."
In a news conference announcing Harding's selection, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano cited his experience in national security and intelligence as a key factor, given the agency's renewed mission to combat aviation terrorism. "General Harding is precisely the kind of leader we need as we move forward in these efforts," Napolitano said.
A previous Obama nominee for the post, Erroll Southers, withdrew in January when his confirmation stalled in the Senate amid GOP objections.
Mindful of the Southers nomination, Napolitano called on the Senate to act quickly to confirm Harding. She said the TSA post was one of the most important unfilled positions remaining in the Obama administration. "If there were ever a nominee that warranted expedited and detailed consideration in the Senate, this is it," she said.
Southers had struggled to win Senate confirmation in part because of Republican concerns that he would seek to unionize the agency's employees. Harding is less known to federal unions. "We haven't had the opportunity to research this candidate as we have some of the other White House nominees," John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told The Washington Post. "However, if the administration believes him to be the best person to lead TSA, we will trust that decision until given a reason not to."
Colleen M. Kelley of the National Treasury Employee Union said Harding's background "would bring an important and useful perspective to the agency's efforts."
Before he retired from the military in 2001, Harding had been director of operations for the Army's Defense Intelligence Agency and head of intelligence for the Army's U.S. Southern Command in the mid-1990s.
After leaving the Army, Harding founded his own defense and intelligence contracting firm, Harding Security Associates, in 2003. The company had more than 400 employees, according to the Post. Harding has also served on a pair of administration intelligence advisory panels, as well as on Obama's transition team.
The TSA was formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.