Third time's a charm? Pistole fares well during confirmation hearing

By Leischen Stelter - 06.11.2010

WASHINGTON—During the first of two confirmation hearings for John Pistole, the third man nominated to head the Transportation Security Administration, members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voiced support for his confirmation.

Pistole’s 27-year career at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, currently second-in-command as deputy director, was cited as being the right type of leadership and experience to lead the embattled agency. “I firmly believe you have what it takes to impact this agency,” said Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller, committee chairman, in his opening remarks. “I’m confident you are qualified and ready to lead this agency effectively and yesterday.”

Pistole’s leadership role in the counterterrorism division of the FBI, a position he has held since 2001, will largely impact his strategy of heading the TSA. “My top priority, if confirmed, is to ensure that the men and women of TSA see it as a threat-based, intelligence-driven agency with a national security focus. Answering the question of: How do we manage risk?” he said.

However during the hearing, Pistole faced many of the same concerns from committee members that caused preceding nominees to withdraw. Sen. Jim DeMint, who caused the stalemate and eventual withdrawal of previous nominee Erroll Southers over issues of collective bargaining rights, made it clear he views collective bargaining as a threat to national security. “Abandoning the current policy that prohibits collective bargaining by TSOs will significantly undermine TSA’s ability to respond to threats and protect the nation and it’s a change I hope you will counsel the President against,” he said. DeMint cited Pistole’s role in the FBI as reason not to support collective bargaining. “I think you know your colleagues at the FBI will laugh at you if you ever try to make the case that security forces need third-party negotiations,” DeMint said.

In response, Pistole maintained he would need more time to discuss the issue with various stakeholders, but assured the committee he would always put the safety of the traveling public first. “My experience at the FBI is that we don’t have unions or collective bargaining and so I’m attuned to the security, safety issue,” Pistole said. “From my perspective, whatever the discussion, it can’t adversely affect the safety and security of the traveling public.”

Members of the committee also discussed issues of screening technology, particularly whole-body imaging technology, which has drawn public criticism over issues of privacy. Pistole responded that he has had several inquiries into the use of technology and wants to ensure that the agency is using the “right technology with the right application at the right time.” The use of technology is one part of the layered security strategy, coupled with improving the TSA’s intelligence efforts. “My hope and goal is that intelligence will help inform those decisions and judgments. Clearly, I believe that technology has to inform and enable those functions,” he said.

The absence of leadership at the TSA, which nears a year and five months, was recognized by several members of the committee, who voiced the need to expedite Pistole’s confirmation process. Sen. Rockefeller predicted Pistole could be confirmed soon after his second confirmation hearing on June 16 with the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

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