President Obama nominated Erroll Southers to serve as TSA administrator in September, but his nomination has stalled in the Senate amid the ongoing health-care reform debate. Sen Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has also held up the nomination amid concerns that Southers supports union rights for transportation security officers.
Oh, and Southers was also censured by the FBI in the late 1980s for asking a co-worker's husband to run a background check on his ex-wife's boyfriend.
Despite that transgression, Southers cleared the Senate commerce and homeland security committees and awaits a full Senate vote.
The American Federal of Government Employees -- one of two unions vying to represent TSOs one day -- said in a statement that the security breach "might have been avoided if there had been a strong security professional at the helm of the agency."
"Erroll Southers has the background and experience needed to strengthen security measures at TSA. The hold placed on the nomination and confirmation by Senator DeMint runs counter to prudent national security," AFGE said.
The National Treasury Employees Union said, “The agency clearly is in need of a permanent leader who can begin to resolve some of its pressing issues.”
“This continued delay in seating a permanent TSA administrator only impedes efforts to strengthen the agency,” said NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley. She wants senators to vote on Southers before the holiday recess. (That is if there's even an actual recess.)
As The Eye has written before, career federal employees are perfectly capable of running a federal agency, but only political appointees can set the mission, effectively engage Congress and catch the attention of the president.
Instead, the TSA caught people's attention this week for a bad reason. Could Southers have stopped the embarrassment? Probably not. But a permanent, full-time administrator wouldn't hurt right now.