White House details ethics agreement with TSA nominee

The White House on Tuesday described in detail the steps it is taking to ensure that President Obama's choice to head the Transportation Security Administration does not have a conflict of interest related to his past business dealings.

In a prepared statement, the White House said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Harding will have three levels of recusals when it comes to dealing with the defense and intelligence contracting business he founded in 2003, Harding Security Associates, as well as the clients and partners of that business.

Harding sold his business last July to Six3 Systems Inc., a firm founded by the private equity firm GTCR Golder Rauner LLC.

The White House said Harding will voluntarily recuse himself from dealing with any former business clients and partners until July, the one-year anniversary of the sale of his firm. Several of those clients and partners are major TSA contractors, CongressDaily reported Tuesday.

An administration official emphasized that this particular recusal is not required by federal ethics regulations but will be done "in order to draw bright lines in implementing the recusals and prevent any possible confusion."

"Major General Harding is going beyond the letter of the law and voluntarily complying with the spirit of the one-year rule by agreeing to take himself out of those clients though it is not required," the official said.

"In that regard, he follows the spirit of our rules as well, which go beyond previous requirements," the official added. "This is not out of any concern about conflicts or appearances of conflicts."

The administration had previously disclosed that Harding would recuse himself until July from any matters involving Harding Security Associates, as required by his ethics agreement.

In Tuesday's statement, the administration said Harding also will recuse himself until July from matters involving Six3 Systems.

Harding also must recuse himself for two years from matters involving two companies that he personally provided services to while at the firm -- SRA International and Northrop Grumman. The administration disclosed that information last week but clarified Tuesday that this recusal period would run for two years from the "date of his appointment."

"He ended his association with Harding Security Associates in July 2009, and does not have any current financial or ownership interest in the company," the administration official said. "Therefore, he will not benefit from any government business with Harding Security Associates or its clients."

Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees federal aviation programs, announced it plans to hold a confirmation hearing for Harding on Tuesday. If approved by the panel, his nomination would go to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for consideration.

The top job at TSA has been vacant since President Obama took office in January 2009.

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