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Hold on Nominee for TSA Post

Erroll Southers bio photo, via USC.edu.


To fill the head post at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), President Obama nominated former FBI special agent and CA Deputy Director of Homeland Security Erroll Southers. Although Southers was nominated in September of last year, the Senate was unable to vote on the nomination due to a hold placed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). While it is questionable that there is a direct causal link between the unfilled post and the Christmas Day bombing attempt on NWA Flight 253, Sen. DeMint has drawn fire for delaying a vote on Southers’ nomination.

What is the basis for the hold? Southers, though experienced, has an imperfect professional record – during testimony before Congress, Southers failed to disclose his prior accessing of confidential criminal records of his estranged wife’s significant other. Given the grave misuse of this confidential data, civil liberties advocates have expressed concerns about whether Southers is capable of balancing legal rights and national security. Nevertheless, this has not informed Sen. DeMint’s opposition – instead, the South Carolina Republican has based his hold on fears that Southers may allow TSA employees to unionize.

Sen. DeMint’s conservative background and voting record suggest that his opposition to collective bargaining rights for TSA workers stems from overall opposition to collective bargaining, rather than a legitimate correlation between unionization and security breaches. If this is not the case, DeMint may refer back to a provision from the Aviation Transport and Security Act that he cited in a previous letter to Southers. The provision grants broad authority to the TSA administrator for hiring and firing, while collective bargaining rights, technically, may weaken this authority. Conversely, Southers could argue that he has the authority to permit collective bargaining, and that ensuing agreements may improve work conditions and morale – this would, in turn, serve national security interests in a small way.

Regardless of the way real evidence may portray the relationship between airport security and unionization, it is Southers’ own past experience and misconduct that are more directly related to his merits as a nominee. Those merits and negatives will play out as Senator Reid will likely force a Senate vote later this month.

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