President Obama on Monday nominated retired Army Major Gen. Robert A. Harding to lead the Transportation Security Administration.
“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," President Obama said in a 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.”
But Harding is Obama's second choice for the post after Erroll Southers withdrew from consideration in January following reports that he may have misled Congress about an incident in the late 1980s involving a background check of the boyfriend of his ex-wife.
Harding retired from the Army in 2001 after 33 years of military service, according to the White House. He served as deputy to the Army's chief of intelligence and, previously, served as director for operations in the Defense Intelligence Agency. In 2003, he founded a defense and intelligence contracting firm, Harding Security Associates, which employs more than 400 people, according to the White House. Harding currently serves on the boards of directors of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts and the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.
If confirmed, Harding will likely help settle the issue of whether TSA employees should earn collective bargaining rights, an issue that led Republican lawmakers to place a hold on Southers' nomination.
Federal union leaders said they knew little about Harding, but hoped to meet with him soon to discuss labor concerns.
“We haven’t had the opportunity to research this candidate as we have some of the other White House nominees,” said American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage “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.”
National Treasury Employee Union President Colleen M. Kelley also said she didn't know Harding, but "it appears his lengthy intelligence background would bring an important and useful perspective to the agency’s efforts." Both unions hope to win the right to represent TSA workers and said earning collective bargaining rights remained their top concern.
Harding would join TSA in the aftermath of the thwarted Christmas Day bombing attack and amid Congressional concerns with several recent reports of passenger mistreatment by TSA officers. The agency also continues to deploy 150 new body-scanning machines at major American airports.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Monday said the TSA job is among the most important unfilled posts in the Obama administration. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) urged swift confirmation for Harding.
"This nomination should not be subject to partisan delay tactics," Reid said in a statement. The leaders of the Senate Commerce and Homeland Security committees, which will hold hearings on the nomination, also pledged to move quickly on Harding.