Senate confirms Kerlikowske to head Customs and Border Protection

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The Senate on Thursday voted by unanimous consent to confirm U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske as the next head of Customs and Border Protection.

Kerlikowske has an extensive background in law enforcement. Besides serving as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy since 2009, he was Seattle’s police chief for more than eight years. He also led police departments in Buffalo, Fort Pierce, Fla. and Port St. Lucie, Fla., in addition to working for two years as deputy director of the Justice Department’s community-oriented policing division during the Clinton administration.

With the Senate action on Thursday, Kerlikowske is set to become the first permanent CBP chief since 2011, when former commissioner Alan Bersin, a recess appointee, stepped down. He is also the first Senate-confirmed commissioner since 2009, the last year of W. Ralph Basham’s tenure in the position.

President Obama nominated Kerlikowske in August. Thomas S. Winkowski has served as CBP’s acting director since roughly the same time.

Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske testifies during a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2009. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske testifies during a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2009. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Kerlikowske’s challenges will include reigning in overtime abuses by headquarters employees and managing CBP’s relatively new drone fleet, which has raised concerns because of the agency lending the aircraft to other federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies.

MORE: Border-patrol drones being borrowed by other agencies more often than previously known

The new commissioner will also help the Department of Homeland Security review his agency’s use-of-force guidelines. Civil rights groups have criticized CBP for allowing border agents to shoot at undocumented immigrants accused of throwing rocks at them.

In Seattle, Kerlikowske was credited with helping to reduce the city’s crime rate and stabilizing its police department after the 1999 World Trade Organization riots. But he was accused by some critics of being soft on officer misconduct, according to a Seattle Times article.

Kerlikowske earned a B.A. and a M.A. in criminal justicea from the University of South Florida.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail atjosh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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