Experts: Southers exit signals several mistakes
Despite substantive concerns about his nomination, Erroll Southers's decision to withdraw from consideration to lead the Transportation Security Administration raises questions about the Obama administration's vetting process and the potential politicization of the presidential transition process, according to Homeland Security and presidential transition experts.
"Anytime that the national security debate is politicized, I think we do the nation a disservice," said Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "I think this has been the case with Erroll Southers."
If Obama wants to correct the "systemic failures" that led to the thwarted Christmas Eve bomb attack on an American airliner, "he can’t make those systemic changes if he doesn’t’ have his leadership in place," Nelson said. "I think it’s important for the president to get his team in place as fast as he can to make the changes he deems necessary."
Several Democrats and former colleagues of Southers argued that Republican unnecessarily stalled his nomination. But the fact that he gave Congress and the White House misleading information about incidents two decades ago in which he inappropriately accessed a federal database to obtain information about his estranged wife's new boyfriend also raised substantive concerns.
Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution scholar and expert on the presidency, said this incident proves that the nomination and confirmation process gets longer and deeper with each new administration, as nominees expose new potential pitfalls.
"We never looked for nannies before Zoe Baird," Hess said, recalling Bill Clinton's first pick for attorney general, who failed to pay Social Security taxes for an illegal immigrant she hired to serve as a nanny.
"Everybody’s got a stake in this thing, everybody wants for their own purposes to slow down the process, everybody’s got his own forms to fill out," Hess said. "And we can’t get a government in place. There has to be a point in which people understand that we elect a president for four years, we’ve got to give him a shot at running his government as best he can."
"This is another example of where the presidential vetting process has failed," said Paul Light, a presidential transition expert at New York University. "They should have detected this early and moved on to another candidate."
The Southers incident proves the White House is having difficulty "distinguishing between little things that don’t merit attention and bigger things that can derail a nomination," Light said.
"This particular case brought a lot of advocates for presidential transitions to the ramparts of how burdensome and destructive the presidential appointments process has become," Light said. "It would have been nice to know that we were defending a nominee with a flawed background."
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| January 20, 2010; 12:04 PM ET
Categories: Administration, Revolving Door
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