WASHINGTON - The Senate’s third attempt at finding a leader for the troubled federal agency in charge of airport screenings was quickly caught up today in a labor dispute.
Fast-talking FBI deputy Ddrector John Pistole, President Obama’s nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration, played defense as Republicans demanded to know whether he would support collective bargaining rights for TSA employes.
“That’s something I have to reserve judgment on” pending a review he’s doing for his potential boss, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Pistole told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
“Your colleagues at the FBI would laugh at you if you ever tried to make the case” for union rights at the FBI, said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
Union workers exercising their contract rights at the TSA would pose a direct threat to national security, said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.). “You can’t have eight-hour days. You have to be able to respond to emergencies,” said Hutchison, who urged TSA workers looking for “9-5 type employment” to look for other jobs.
Despite the flareup on unions, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the committee’s chairman, predicted that Pistole, who acquired extensive counterterror experience in 27 years at the FBI, would win easy confirmation.
Rockefeller noted that the last two nominees at the TSA flamed out in scandal. Veteran cop and FBI agent Erroll Southers withdrew after admitting he ran background checks on the new boyfriend of his ex-wife. Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Harding also withdrew over questionable payments to the private firm he joined after retiring from the military.
In his testimony, Pistole noted he was recently involved in the investigation of the underwear bomber’s failed attack on Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit last Christmas and also has worked closely with the NYPD in the recent plot against the New York City subways