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.
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.
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.
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