- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2010

President Obama on Monday nominated a retired Army general to fill the Transportation Security Administration’s top job, a post that’s been empty since his last nominee withdrew amid concerns from Republicans that he may have misled Congress about a 20-year-old FBI probe.

The administration asked Congress to quickly confirm retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert A. Harding as assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security in response to criticism that Mr. Obama left the key terror-fighting job empty for too long.

“The TSA administrator is among the most important unfilled posts in the Obama administration,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a press conference. “The president and I both believe that Gen. Harding has the experience and perspective to make a real difference in carrying out the mission of this agency. If there were ever a nominee who warranted expedited and detailed consideration in the Senate, this is it.”

Republicans said they welcomed the nomination but reserved judgment on whether they would support Gen. Harding.

“As we were starkly reminded on December 25 with the attempted terrorist attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the mission of TSA is critical to the security of our nation,” said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “I look forward to meeting with Gen. Harding to discuss his qualifications and the many challenges facing the TSA.”

Mr. Obama was criticized after the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day for not having someone in the position, which oversees security throughout the nation’s transportation systems.

Gen. Harding served in the Army for 33 years, largely in intelligence gathering. In 2003, he founded Harding Security Associates, a firm whose business included government contracts, and sold the company last year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he had confidence in Gen. Harding and asked for a quick confirmation. He blamed Republicans for blocking Mr. Obama’s other nominees.

“Gen. Harding joins other talented individuals that have been nominated by the president to serve in national security posts in the past year,” Mr. Reid said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that Republicans have blocked many of those nominations for months, leaving America’s domestic security vulnerable.”

Mr. Obama’s first nominee to the post, Erroll Southers, withdrew his nomination after it became clear he would be strongly opposed by congressional Republicans, who were worried he would help unionize the agency and expressed concern that he lied to Congress in previous testimony.

As an FBI agent in the 1980s, Mr. Southers had ordered criminal background checks of his ex-wife’s boyfriend and was later censured by the agency. In a letter to the Senate, Mr. Southers said he regretted the incident. Republicans later said he told different stories in his committee hearing and in follow-up letters.

In addition, Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, put a “hold” on the nomination over concern Mr. Southers would grant collective bargaining rights to TSA screeners, which Mr. Obama supports but Republicans oppose.

Mr. Southers blamed “partisan ideology” when he withdrew his nomination in January.

Mr. DeMint said in a statement on Monday that he wants to meet with Gen. Harding.

“He’s had a distinguished career in the Army, and I’m interested to hear how his military experience would inform his leadership of our nation’s transportation security,” Mr. DeMint said.

Gen. Harding will face confirmation hearings in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, as well as the Homeland Security panel.

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