With back-to-back confirmation hearings before the US Senate’s Commerce and Homeland Security Committees under his belt, it would appear that MG Robert Harding is on a clear approach to be the next TSA Administrator. With two different rooms of aviation industry representatives, union activists and other interested observers looking on, Harding answered a range of anticipated questions about his tenure as a business owner, his intelligence experience and his thoughts on collective bargaining for TSA employees.
In offering my comments, I have to admit that while I did not hear/watch MG Harding’s first hearing on Tuesday, I was able to watch his second hearing before Senate Homeland. In reviewing the notes of colleagues that did watch the first hearing and news reports following it, it is safe to say there were no glaring show stoppers for him. He was asked pointed questions by Sen. Hutchison (R-TX) about the collective bargaining issue and offered responses that Sen. Lieberman (I/D-CT), who questioned MG Harding at the second hearing, observed were “neutral” to the issue.
While Harding’s responses on the collective bargaining issue show he did not meltdown like Jell-O in a microwave, his responses on both days echo that of his predecessor nominee, Erroll Southers.
Paraphrasing, MG Harding said, “I want to preserve all flexibility for TSA’s leaders to adapt the agency and its employees as it addresses an ever-evolving and dynamic threat,” and “I’m going to look at the information and make my recommendation to the Secretary and the President for their decision.”
That sounds like Southers 2.0.
For all intents and purposes, Harding’s lack of committal response is essentially a “no news item,” but it is worth noting that it is the exact same response that emboldened Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and other Senators to put a hold on Southers’ nomination, torpedoing his chances at the helm of TSA.
Lacking a definitive “Yes” or “No” to the collective bargaining questioning and holding fast to the middle “neutral” ground is not a safe place to be. Unfortunately, it is the exact place that his nomination handlers at DHS and the White House have put him by means of their preparations, and it is here that MG Harding has to wait it out.
It is also worth noting that Sen. DeMint did not attend either of the confirmation hearings for MG Harding. But just because he didn’t show up to publicly question the nominee doesn’t mean he will let Harding off the hook. DeMint didn’t publicly question Southers in his confirmation hearing either, but rather, saved his verbal salvos for press releases and Fox News interviews. Maybe he’s looking to call the same play here again.
While I can’t say I envy where MG Harding sits as he awaits his confirmation vote, I have to say I was very impressed with his responses in two areas of concern. When questioned on billing practices his former company, Harding Security Associates, engaged in, the nominee seemed to go to lengths to explain the process that caused the overbilling and the efforts taken to rectify the situation. While referring to his notes to be sure of everything he was saying, he seemed to address the situation with frankness and humility.
When questioned about the role his company played in interrogating prisoners at the infamous Iraqi prison, Abu Ghraib, Harding also went to impressive lengths to defend the people he hired and interrogation practices they used. Citing his own personal involvement in their hiring and training, his and his employees’ familiarity with the Geneva Convention, and their overall conduct during that time, Harding showed he is a guy willing to go to the mat to defend the people in his charge. His professed words and actions were a good sign to me that he is prepared and willing to do the same for TSA, its employees and the people in his charge on a daily basis.
I just hope the White House has the same resolve and character to fight for MG Harding. It would be a shame to watch another good nominee have his name and reputation soiled for political gamesmanship. God knows we need a TSA Administrator and not a Southers 2.0.