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With the nomination of Erroll Southers to be the next Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) now in tatters, the question has to be raised, “Now what?”

If we do the forensics on why Southers will remain in Southern California instead of TSA Headquarters in Arlington, VA, I think it is safe to say that for all of his testimony faults and the petty politics that caused his nomination to collapse, its more than apparent that it was the White House that doomed the nomination from the start.

Why?

Rather than allowing a nominee to stand on their own qualifications and be judged by the Senate as worthy or not-worthy for their nominated post and fight for them, the White House essentially led Southers out to the center of the Roman Coliseum to be torn apart by politically positioned gladiators and wild beasts without any type of defense or weapon to strike back.

One of the weapons he needed in his nomination fight was the answer to the question that many in the Senate ultimately wanted answered – should TSA should have collective bargaining?

According to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and his allies, the answer Southers offered during the confirmation process was no answer at all and as such he placed a procedural hold on him from going forward. Southers was put in the untenable position of answering a question that ultimately was not his to answer. As TSA Administrator, he could and would offer his recommendation on the issue after looking at all of the information, but the call on whether or not TSA should have collective bargaining rights does not reside with him – it resides with the Secretary and ultimately the White House. As such, Southers was defenseless from the withering attacks of DeMint and his allies when no one was willing to come to his aid.

If we’ve seen anything of their first year in office, this is not an Administration with much ability to make unpopular or tough positions, let alone a willingness to fight to put people into positions that serve the nation’s interests. Rather than actually leading and staking positions beyond rhetorical campaign platitudes or using the powers and authorities they have, the Obama Administration is apparently unable or unwilling to answer tough questions or lacks the ability to fight for people who are willing to serve. Probably even more disturbing is the very public appearance of lacking the courage to do any of this.

For as strong, bold and visionary as its election campaign was, the Obama Administration is proving to be as gutless as Oz’s Cowardly Lion.

Until they have the chutzpah to answer the TSA unionization question, it is pointless to nominate another good person to take the Administrator’s job. Further silence and innocuous weasel words by the Obama Administration will only find another person becoming a victim to another procedural hold by Sen. DeMint or others, thereby allowing them to become a human piñata for the media, pundits and activists.

Let’s be even more blunt – there is no sane person on the planet that would (or should) step into the TSA Administrator’s position without a White House decision on the unionization issue.

For all of their bellowing about conducting a new search for a new TSA leader, the Administration’s options are not extensive. They had already been turned down by several candidates prior to the Southers selection, and the last time I checked, there aren’t a lot of people who regularly volunteer to be targets for firing squads. That’s especially true after all of the “support” this Administration gave to Southers on this issue as well as his nomination process.

The White House needs to either give the position to Gale Rossides who has been ably doing the job for more than a year, or tap one of the Federal Security Directors TSA has around the country and who are already performing (and are familiar with) the critical support functions for the TSA mission. Bringing in a complete outsider with no exposure to the Agency, its mission or the viper pit that is Washington, especially after the post-12/25 security enhancements are being implemented, is literally asking someone in a next-to-impossible job to do even more impossible things.

In trying to find a super-human person to take this on, the Administration would do well to lighten the burden on this individual by summoning the courage it has yet to display on tough decisions and the nomination process. Until that happens, another nominee’s name will be sullied, a critical Agency will continue to go leaderless, petty politics will compromise our security and the Administration will continue search for what it apparently has been lacking for some time – its balls.

Rich Cooper blog 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
  • Ellen Howe

    Gale would be a great choice. I hate to hear it called a leaderless organization. How inappropriate. Gale Rossides came up through the ranks as a public servant in organizations where women were a rarity. She has given her heart & soul to TSA & the workforce. The senior leadership team of TSA functions efficiently & made a point to do so because the organization was so young. The administration took 9 mos to name a successor to Kip Hawley because TSA was strong & on the right track.