John Pistole closer to landing TSA job; Senate to tackle manager training

John Pistole's nomination to head the Transportation Security Administration will go to the full Senate.
John Pistole's nomination to head the Transportation Security Administration will go to the full Senate. (Drew Angerer/associated Press)
By Joe Davidson
Friday, June 25, 2010

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved on a voice vote Thursday the nomination of John Pistole to head the Transportation Security Administration. Last week, his nomination was advanced by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Now that the nomination has cleared both panels, it will go to the full Senate.

If approved as expected, Pistole, deputy director of the FBI, will lead an agency that has not had a full-time director since President Obama took office. Two previous nominees withdrew. The TSA plays a major role in protecting air, rail and trucking safety.

Filling the TSA administrator's job has been particularly important to the two largest federal employee unions that are seeking to secure collective bargaining rights for about 50,000 airport screeners.

Also on the agenda was legislation designed to improve the training of federal managers. Introduced by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), the bill, approved on a voice vote, would require training for new supervisors during their first 12 months on the job and retraining every three years after that.

"Improving federal supervisor training will make the federal government more efficient and effective," Akaka said. "As we prepare for the retirement of a large portion of the federal workforce, we must invest in developing a new generation of effective supervisors."

The Federal Managers Association welcomed approval of the training bill. "Current law requires agencies to create basic training programs for federal managers and supervisors but fails to establish funding mechanisms and accountability measures to ensure training takes place," it said. "The result is that current regulations afford agencies the latitude to cut training from their budgets when funding is tight, as is routinely the case."

FMA President Patricia Niehaus said Akaka's Federal Supervisor Training Act "stands as a crucial legislative measure designed to ultimately provide the American public with a fully productive public labor force." She also had the retirement of colleagues on her mind, saying the bill comes at a good time "to tackle the challenges posed by the need to bolster the supervisory ranks in the federal government, particularly as agencies seek to fill management vacancies resulting from the retirement of senior members of the federal workforce."

The House is considering a similar measure.

The committee also approved the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, which is designed to guard U.S. computer networks from attack. Reforming the federal cyberspace workforce is among the many things it would do.

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) and Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), calls for federal agencies to develop plans on how they will recruit, hire and train cyberspace personnel. The Office of Personnel Management would develop strategies to recruit students into the federal service for cyberspace-related positions.

Under the legislation, the Department of Homeland Security would have temporary hiring and pay flexibility to quickly staff a new National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications, which would take the lead in developing programs to protect public- and private-sector cyber-networks.

Lieberman, the committee chairman, said during an earlier hearing on the legislation: "It provides a comprehensive framework to modernize, strengthen and coordinate our cyber defenses across civilian federal networks and the networks of the most vital privately owned critical infrastructure, including some real basics of American life: our electric grid, financial systems and our telecommunications networks."

Hiring overhaul

Hiring reform for the entire federal workforce, not just cyber security positions, is the topic of a public meeting the OPM planned for Friday. Participants have been asked to discuss "whether normal, competitive hiring is an effective avenue for bringing recent college graduates into the federal workforce," according to the Federal Register.

The hearing follows a May 11 directive from Obama, in which he said "the federal government must recruit and hire highly qualified employees, and public service should be a career choice for the most talented Americans."

The current hiring process is so frustrating that it turns off many potential employees.

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