Robert Harding, Obama's Second TSA Nominee, Withdraws From Consideration

EILEENSULLIVAN|03/27/1007:30PM|
WASHINGTON—PresidentBarackObamaisbacktosquareone–again–infindingatransportationsecuritychieftoshoreupthenation'sdefensesagainstterroristthreatsfromtheair,roadandrail.

RetiredArmyMaj.Gen.RobertHardingtookhimselfoutoftherunningFridaynightasheadoftheTransportationSecurityAdministration,anothersetbackforObamaafterhisfirstchoicewithdrewinJanuarybecausehefacedatoughconfirmationstruggleinCongress.TheObamaadministrationhascalledthejobthemostimportantunfilledpositiononObama'steam.

Harding'spastasadefensecontractorraisedcomplicationsforhisnomination.

HehadextensiveintelligenceexperiencethatObamahopedtotapinfortifyingsecurityagainstattackssuchastheChristmasbombingattemptonanairlinerboundforDetroit,whichwasfoiledbypassengers.Theagency'sprimarymissionistokeepcommercialaviationsafefromterrorism,butitsresponsibilitiescoverthreatsbylandandferryaswell.

HardingretiredfromtheArmyin2001,endingathree-decadecareerduringwhichheservedastheDefenseDepartment'stophumanintelligenceofficer,managinga$1billionintelligencecollectionprogram.

Hebecameagovernmentconsultantonhumanintelligenceandcounterintelligence,sellinghiscompanyin2009.

QuestionsaroseafterhisnominationaboutacontracthiscompanyhadwiththegovernmenttoprovideinterrogatorsinIraq.Afterthegovernmentendedthecontractearly,in2004,HardingSecurityAssociatesclaimedmoremoneyfromterminationofthecontractthantheDefenseDepartment'sinspectorgeneralsaiditwasentitledtoget.Thefirmrefunded$1.8millionofthatmoneyina2008settlementwiththeDefenseIntelligenceAgency.

"IfeelthatthedistractionscausedbymyworkasadefensecontractorwouldnotbegoodforthisadministrationnorfortheDepartmentofHomelandSecurity,"Hardingsaidinalate-eveningstatementreleasedbytheWhiteHouse.TheTransportationSecurityAdministrationispartofHomelandSecurity.

Alittleovertwomonthsago,ErrollSoutherswithdrewhisnominationtoleadtheTSAafteritbecameapparenthewouldhavetroublewinningconfirmation.QuestionswereraisedaboutareprimandthatSouthers,atopofficialwiththeLosAngelesAirportPoliceDepartment,hadreceivedforrunningbackgroundchecksonhisthen-estrangedwife'sboyfriendtwodecadesago.HeacknowledgedgivingCongressinconsistentanswersonthematter.

ObamahadwaitedeightmonthsbeforenominatingSouthers.NowHarding'swithdrawalmeansmoredelaysinfillingthetopjobintransportationsecurity.

TheannouncementaboutHardingcamelateFriday,aperiodfavoredbythegovernmentforreleasinguncomfortablenewsbecausethepublic'sattentionislight.Therewasnoimmediatewordonfindinganothernominee.

"BynominatingGen.Harding,thepresidenttappedanindividualwithmorethan35yearsofmilitaryandintelligenceexperiencewhoisdedicatedtoimprovingthesecurityofournation,"saidWhiteHousespokesmanNicholasShapiro."ThepresidentisdisappointedinthisoutcomebutremainsconfidentinthesolidteamofprofessionalsatTSA."


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