As history has shown us, there is no date or holiday that is sacrosanct to terrorism.  One day is as good as any other to strike and that was certainly true for the Christmas Day, Detroit-bound, Northwest flight 253. However, thanks to fast-acting passengers, the murderous actions of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab were stopped. Unlike the Ft. Hood actions of US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Obama Administration had no hesitation in calling these actions for what they were, “an act of terror.”

As accurate as that description may be, it is worth noting the ongoing politics at play that are directly impacting the security of the American public.

Nominated by the President this past summer to serve as the Administrator/Assistant Secretary of DHS’ Transportation Security Administration, Erroll Southers nomination is being held hostage by nothing short of petty politics by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). After going through two different confirmation hearings and receiving numerous endorsements from Republicans, Democrats, and security and counterterrorism professionals from around the world, DeMint has placed a procedural hold on Southers, preventing one of the world’s most important jobs in safeguarding the traveling public from being filled.  Because of DeMint’s vociferous demand that there be no collective bargaining for TSA’s employees, Southers nomination is going nowhere fast.

Isn’t this is just where we want our leadership and talent to be, especially after a thwarted terrorist attack? On the bench and unable to be in the game to make a difference?  I don’t think so, and DeMint’s actions are playing politics where they should never be – in protecting the public.

It is unconscionable that anti-unionism, ideological purity or whatever drives Sen. DeMint decision making process would take precedent over putting someone in place to take on one of America’s toughest and most necessary leadership positions. Unfortunately Sen. DeMint seems to think otherwise.

As frustrating as DeMint’s petty actions may be, the hands of Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV) are not particularly clean on this matter either.  While cutting just about every possible deal you can imagine in order to pass the Senate’s version of health care, he was able to get through a number of other important Administration appointments.  Before recessing on Christmas Eve for the remainder of the year, Sen. Reid made sure the nominees for the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHSTA), US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Office of US Trade Representative were confirmed.

These are certainly important positions to the strategic interests of the American public, but none of them deals with safety and security the way the senior-most position at TSA does.

While the agency has functioned for nearly a year under the strong and able leadership of Gale Rossides, the acting administrator, it is far past time that this crucial position be permanently filled.

It would seem that the Senate can find plenty of time to cut backroom deals to pass a thousand-some page, indecipherable bill and confirm non-security centric positions, but it can’t take the time or assemble the votes to overturn DeMint’s hold and put Southers in place.

The fact that the Obama Administration has not put a full-court-press on Southers position is equally shameful.  As they begin come to grips with the actions that occurred on Flight 253, Erroll Southers is the guy you want in the room to deal with this situation and right now they don’t have him.

If you needed further proof that the confirmation process in this country is horribly out of whack, this may be it.  When petty politics and unwillingness to set the right confirmation priorities take greater precedence over putting strong, capable leadership in place to deal with some of the country’s greatest threats, our Republic is in real trouble.

At a time when we truly need one of our country’s best on the job to help protect us, we can’t put him into the arena to learn and lead us in how we are to thwart the new means of attack that Al Qaeda and its sympathizers have developed.  Instead Erroll Southers remains on the sidelines.

There is nothing civil, just or American about this circumstance.  It is playing a proverbial game of chicken with American security – a game that the passengers of Northwest flight 253 didn’t play.  They took action.  It’s way past time for the Senate and the Obama Administration to do the same.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More
  • Diego de la Vega

    Let's not try to kid anyone. Aviation security effectiveness is not dependent on one individual being appointed to run TSA. Especially when that individual seems to have mostly academic credentials but no long-term career in the field – in fact, not even career in any field, really, just a series of fairly short-term jobs. Even his current position in aviation security is short-term and limited in scope.