TSA nominee was censured over records check
Updated 4:01 p.m. ET
President Obama's nominee to lead the nation's airport security officers received a censure from the FBI in 1988 after asking a San Diego police officer to run a background check on his ex-wife's boyfriend.
Obama tapped Erroll Southers in September to serve as administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. Southers is currently chief of homeland security and intelligence at the Los Angeles International Airport's police department and associate director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events. He previously served as a homeland security adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.).
Southers worked as an FBI special agent from 1984 to 1988, and received his censure in 1988 after asking a co-worker's husband who worked for the San Diego Police Department to run a background check on the boyfriend of his ex-wife.
"The boyfriend had moved in with my ex-wife, from whom I had separated only a short time before, and I was concerned for the safety of her and my infant son, who was also living with them," Southers said in his answers to written questions from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "The database search revealed an outstanding warrant for his arrest, about which I informed my ex-wife."
"I recognize that it was a mistake to have used my official connections to investigate the matter," Southers said.
Southers left the FBI approximately six months after the censure for unrelated reasons, returning to the Santa Monica Police Department, where he served before joining the FBI, according to his answers.
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said he could not comment on the case for privacy reasons. A letter of censure could be filed for many reasons, and would not necessary limit an FBI agent's advancement depending on the offense and mitigating circumstances, he said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) questioned Southers about the censure during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. The FBI has yet to provide a copy of the censure letter to the committee, Collins said.
Southers said he has not misused government databases to receive personal information on anyone since the 1988 incident and said he will not do so in the future.
"You have taken responsibility for your actions. You’ve acknowledged your mistake in the personal conversation that we had in my office," Collins said.
"It’s going to be important for the public to have confidence that you would not, in any way, misuse your access to the personal information in those databases."
Southers's nomination has the support of dozens of law enforcement leaders across the country, several prominent California officials and labor unions eager to represent TSA's employees if they win collective bargaining rights.
"I believe that the committee was satisfied with Mr. Southers’ explanation of the incident," National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen M. Kelley said in a statement. "It occurred over 20 years ago and he has had an exemplary career." Kelley also said she looked forward to working with Southers on extending collective bargaining rights to TSA employees.
Southers' nomination required the Senate Commerce Committee to hold a confirmation hearing before referring him to the homeland security panel. Members of the commerce committee never asked Southers about his censure during an Oct. 15 hearing and the panel approved his nomination on Oct. 27.
Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.
| November 10, 2009; 10:05 AM ET
Categories: Administration, Confirmation Hearings, Revolving Door
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