Obama announces new pick to head TSA

President will nominate Robert Harding to lead aviation security agency

Robert Harding, a retired Army major general, is President Barack Obama’s new pick to head up the Transportation Security Administration.

If confirmed by the Senate, Harding would take charge of TSA’s large information technology-driven aviation security programs, including screening passengers at airports for explosives, and vetting passengers against subsets of the government’s terrorist watch list. TSA is in the process of taking over from airlines the process of checking fliers against the watch lists through multibillion-dollar, multiphase IT program called Secure Flight.

Harding served in the Army for 33 years, and has a total of over 35 years working in intelligence in the military and private sector, according to the administration. Previously, he served as the Defense Department’s senior human intelligence officer, the administration said in a statement announcing Obama’s intent to nominate Harding.

“Bob’s national security expertise and extensive experience in the intelligence community and U.S. Army will be a great asset to the department in our efforts to ensure the safety of the nation’s transportation systems,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in a statement.


Related story:

Candidate for TSA top job withdraws from consideration


Obama’s previous choice for the top TSA post, Erroll Southers, withdrew his nomination from consideration in January after a group of GOP senators raised concerns about his disclosures regarding his censure by the FBI 20 years ago. TSA, part of DHS, has been without a permanent director since Kip Hawley left at the end of the Bush administration. Gale Rossides has been acting as administrator.

Harding’s intelligence credentials are likely to play favorably for him in the confirmation process. TSA has come under pressure to bolster security since the failed attempt to blow up a plane en route to Detroit on Christmas Day.

Another issue likely to come up in the confirmation process is the question of whether TSA’s transportation security officers should have collective bargaining rights. The American Federation of Government Employees, the federal employee union, said today in a statement it would continue to press for those rights.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) reportedly had blocked the confirmation of Southers, Obama’s previous nominee, because he was worried that Southers would allow TSA employees to have those rights.

Advanced imaging technology is also likely to come up during the confirmation process. Last week DHS announced 11 airports that would soon to receive advanced imaging technology units purchased with money coming from the stimulus law. By the end of 2010 TSA expects to deploy a total of 450 of those units that are designed to detect for metallic and nonmetallic threats concealed under layers of clothing. But, some civil libertarians and privacy advocates have expressed worries about privacy implications of the technology; the American Civil Liberties Union has called the technology invasive.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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