Southers advises TSA nominee to focus on threats, not unions

President Obama on Monday nominated retired Maj. Gen. Robert Harding to head the Transportation Security Administration.

As Federal News Radio told you on In Depth, Erroll Southers was the President's initial choice, but removed himself from consideration amid what he called a 'political agenda'.

Southers has moved on and is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California.

He now gives Federal news Radio insight as to what Gen. Harding might expect during the confirmation process.

"My understanding is that, obviously, the President wants to see that collective bargaining is considered. My understanding is that the Secretary has stated that this nominee, like myself, will take a look at the system and the process to see if, in fact, it is something he might recommend."

Southers said he thinks Gen. Harding is a highly qualified candidate who understands the nomination process and the politics that come with it.

"I would think that what he has to do is -- like I tried to do -- emphasize with those senators that have concerns about collective bargaining that his experience and expertise is going to rule at the end of the day and, as I did, convince them that he is not going to compromise security, safety or expediency for collective bargaining and the advantages that brings to the workforce."

Southers added that, in his opinion, collective bargaining shouldn't be the central issue. Instead, he said, the head of TSA should be concentrating on protecting the country.

"Instead of discussing how to counter the threat of terrorism, the issue keeps revolving back to countering unionization and union bosses, and that is not the concern. We need to be talking about the emerging threat. We should be talking about the risks that we face, what vulnerabilities our systems, mainly transportation, have and how to mitigate those consequences that may occur from a man-enabled or natural disaster."

Southers said he thinks that this is the main hurdle that Gen. Harding should watch out for. Southers personally believes that the general would remain focused on the overall goals of the agency if appointed.

"We have to be mission-focused. I don't think you're going to get a more mission-focused nominee than a former general. So, I would think that . . . we should be talking about training, technology, mass transit protection -- that should be the dialogue instead of talking about union issues."

During his time as a nominee, Southers spoke with over 30 senators about various issues facing the TSA and the agency's workforce. He said that, during these meetings, training was consistently mentioned, as well as public confidence.

"It appears to me, again, a general is a great pick. He understands mission. He's going to be faced with trying to get 50,000 people to really internalize the culture of what their mission is. I think that's going to be the most important issue. . . . I [also] think we really have to have a dialogue with America, much as they've done in the UK. . . . We've got to have a more resilient society and the only way to get [that] is to educate our public and make them more aware of the real threats that we face."

Southers added that he thinks there also needs to be an increased emphasis on worldwide partnerships, as well as those with other agencies.

"We face a trans-national threat. We can learn from other cultures who, unfortunately, have a higher threat level than we do. . . . We have to engage in policy making, rule making and decisions, I think, on a global scale. . . . We have got to flatten our organizations out internationally, work collectively on policies, and then educate the traveling public on what those policies mean and why they're there."

He concluded that he has confidence that the general will make a good leader, though acting administrator Gale Rossides has been doing a good job, as well.

"The organization has been functioning. No one leads alone. I think the general's experience and expertise is going to be valuable. I don't even want to suggest or even consider the fact that he might not get confirmed."

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