Republican senator DeMint holds up nomination for TSA chief

By Margaret Talev
Tuesday, December 29, 2009; A13

An alleged attempt to blow up a transatlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas would be all-consuming for the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration -- if there were one.

Instead, the post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has held up President Obama's nominee in an effort to prevent TSA workers from joining a labor union.

DeMint, in a statement, said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's alleged attempted attack in Detroit "is a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA."

For now, DeMint said, the TSA has "flexibility to make real-time decisions that allowed it to quickly improve security measures in response to this attempted attack." He said that if organized labor were involved, union bosses would have the power "to veto or delay future security improvements at our airports."

Two Senate committees have given their bipartisan blessing to Erroll Southers, a former FBI special agent and a counterterrorism expert who is Obama's nominee. But DeMint has objected to a full Senate vote, saying he wants additional testimony to clarify Southers's stand on unionizing the TSA, a shift Democrats support.

An acting administrator is in place at the TSA, the division of the Department of Homeland Security that oversees airport security.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) had not scheduled a floor vote on Southers before the Senate left town on Christmas Eve, and the Senate will not be back in session for another three weeks.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Monday that the majority leader is working with the White House to get Southers confirmed "as quickly as possible." Manley charged that "Republican obstructionism has prevented TSA from having the leadership in place that the organization deserves."

DeMint's objection creates a procedural hurdle that will probably take at least three days of debate and test votes to overcome.

Southers is assistant chief for homeland security and intelligence for the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department. He is also an associate director at the University of Southern California's Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, and he served as a deputy director of homeland security for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).

-- McClatchy Newspapers

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