Candidate for TSA top job withdraws from consideration

GOP senators questioned integrity of Erroll Southers in light of FBI censure

Erroll Southers, President Obama’s nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration, has withdrawn from consideration just days after a group of GOP senators raised concerns about Southers’ recent disclosures regarding his censure by the FBI 20 years ago.

Southers, former FBI, most recently served as assistant chief of the Los Angeles Airport police force. Nominated to run the TSA in September, his confirmation was delayed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who initially sought to examine whether Southers would seek to unionize the TSA workers.

During a nomination hearing in November 2009, Southers answered questions about the FBI censure related to his misuse of access to a confidential database to obtain information on his ex-wife’s boyfriend. However, after the Senate Homeland Security Committee approved the nomination on Nov. 19, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said there were discrepancies between Southers’ account and the official FBI letter of censure. Southers submitted additional testimony to the committee about the censure.

Republican opposition to Southers’ nomination intensified after the Washington Post reported that Southers may have given the White House and Congress misleading information about the FBI incident.

On Jan. 6, DeMint and six other GOP senators expressed serious reservations about Southers’ appointment and asked for more details about the FBI’s and Southers’ actions related to the censure, as well as on the White House’s vetting process.

"The White House never responded to requests for more information relating to Mr. Southers false testimony to Congress and his censure by the FBI for improperly accessing files,” DeMint said in a statement released today. “And Mr. Southers was never forthcoming about his intentions to give union bosses veto power over security decisions at our airports.”

In a statement released by the White House, Southers accused his critics of being motivated by partisan politics.

It is apparent that this path has been obstructed by political ideology," Southers said in the statement. "My nomination has become a lightning rod for those who have chosen to push a political agenda at the risk of the safety and security of the American people. This partisan climate is unacceptable and I refuse to allow myself to remain part of their dialogue."

TSA has been under pressure to boost security since the Christmas Day airplane terrorist bombing attempt in Detroit. The agency is part of the Homeland Security Department, managing security at airports, ports and other transportation facilities. TSA recently was in hot water over accidental release of portions of its confidential security policies.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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