Obama makes third TSA pick
Updated 6:00 p.m. ET
President Obama announced his third pick to lead the Transportation Security Administration on Monday, tapping FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole to lead the airport security agency.
Pistole has served as deputy director since 2004 and previously led the agency's counterterrorism division. He began his FBI career as a special agent in 1983, serving in Minneapolis and New York before moving to the organized-crime division at FBI headquarters, the White House said.
“The talent and knowledge John has acquired in more than two decades of service with the FBI will make him a valuable asset to our administration's efforts to strengthen the security and screening measures at our airports," Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. "I am grateful that he has agreed to take on this important role, and I look forward to working with him in the weeks and months ahead.”
Obama's statement of support for Pistole was much more reserved than the one he used for Robert A. Harding, his second choice to fill the TSA job. In March he said, "I can think of no one more qualified than [Harding] to take on this important job," but Harding withdrew his nomination on March 26 after senators questioned his business and personal dealings as a military contractor.
Obama first nominated Los Angeles Airport Police official Erroll Southers for the post last September, but Southers withdrew in January after he misled Congress about an incident in the late 1980s involving a background check of the boyfriend of his former wife.
But Pistole appears to have early Senate support. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Pistole "has a great law enforcement background and understands the threat of terrorism as well as anyone in the government.”
The panel's ranking Republican, Susan Collins (R-Maine), applauded Obama's choice of a "career law enforcement official" to lead TSA.
"While I will withhold my final judgment on this nomination until the committee's full examination and vetting processes are completed, I am pleased that the president has chosen an individual with such strong law enforcement experience," Collins said.
Republican lawmakers are likely to press Pistole on his potential support of collective bargaining for TSA workers. Transportation security officers can join unions, but lack the right to negotiate through a union.
John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said “The Senate needs to move quickly to ensure a qualified person is appointed to lead TSA.” His union represents about 13,000 agency workers.
Colleen M. Kelley, who leads the National Treasury Employees Union, said "there are multiple and continuing workplace issues that have been deferred pending nomination and confirmation of a full time administrator. TSA is a critical homeland security agency but it has yet to develop workplace practices that will permit it to recruit and retain the kind of stable and skilled workforce it requires."
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. voiced support for Pistole, noting he played a key role in "identifying and thwarting potential threats to the American people and in advancing the Justice Department’s national security goals.
“I am confident that John’s talent, integrity and expertise will make him a tremendous asset in our ongoing efforts to improve security and safety measures at our airports," Holder said in a statement.
The absence of a TSA administrator means that most airport security responsibilities have fallen to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The secretary has immersed herself in "the granular details of international aviation standards," as my colleague Anne E. Kornblut noted in a recent profile.
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