Last week’s Senate Commerce Committee announcement about an upcoming hearing on TSA’s FY16 budget request inferentially noted that the White House still had not sent the Senate a nominee to replace former Administrator John Pistole, who left at the end of last year to become President of Anderson University in Indiana. Before I get totally bent out of shape again that there are too many congressional committees having jurisdiction over the affairs of the Department of Homeland Security, the Commerce Committee has a point that needs to be addressed.
The less-than-gentle poke at the slowness of the White House personnel operation came a few weeks after a bipartisan letter to President Obama asking (in typical bureaucratic prose) when the White House was going to get off its political keister and send them a nominee to lead the Transportation Security Agency. That letter, signed by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) asked President Obama “to prioritize the formal nomination of a qualified, experienced, and dedicated individual to serve as Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).”
To the best of my knowledge, the White House has not responded to that request – an inference I draw given the language in the Committee’s hearing notice last week.
Unconfirmed rumors are that DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s office had recommended two people who were thought to be “highly qualified for the position” to the Office of Presidential Personnel, but both were either rejected or withdrew from consideration. DHS insiders say that White House minions let Secretary Johnson know that the White House would pick the person for the TSA front office, and that he did not need to waste further energy in making suggestions. IF that is true, it is further evidence of the type of “central control” that has characterized the Obama Administration’s personnel selections in other cabinet agencies. If it is NOT true, then one wonders what the White House found objectionable. Either way, the result is that the Senate has no one to confirm – yet.
The obvious and best choice for TSA Administrator is the person who is currently in the position in an “acting” capacity – Mel Carraway. Since stepping into the Administrator’s office from his previous position as TSA’s Deputy Administrator, Carraway has continued to guide TSA on the path that Pistole set during his heralded tenure. Carraway is substantively qualified, having served in a number of operational positions in his decade of service at TSA. According to his biography on the TSA website:
Since joining TSA in 2004, Carraway also held various positions within the Offices of Security Operations and the Law Enforcement-Federal Air Marshal Service. Previously, Carraway was the Supervisory Federal Air Marshal in Charge for the Dallas field office, where he managed the Dallas area OLE-FAMS workforce and operations, oversaw firearms and tactical training, and engaged with state and local law enforcement and security stakeholders. In the Office of Security Operations, Carraway served as the Area Director for the Pacific Islands and states in the Southwest and the Northwest, where he was responsible for managing and coordinating security activities throughout the region and driving operational improvement. He has also served as the Director for Field Operations, where he managed all federal security directors in airports nationwide, providing management and oversight of security operations and engaging with airport stakeholders and law enforcement agencies nationwide. In 2004, Carraway joined TSA as the Federal Security Director at the Albuquerque International Airport in New Mexico.
Carraway began his civilian public service career in 1979 as an officer with the Indiana State Police. As an ISP major, he was appointed as the Director of the Indiana State Emergency Management Agency. Carraway rose through the ranks and was appointed as the ISP Superintendent in 1997, becoming the first African-American superintendent for the Indiana State Police and second African-American in the U.S. to head a statewide law enforcement agency. His accomplishments include the incorporation of private sector best practices, shifting focus from outputs to outcomes, and an agency reorganization to focus on violent crimes, crimes against children and cyber-crime. He retired from the ISP in 2004.
Are you kidding me? Is there anyone else in the world who has such a distinguished TSA and local law enforcement career and can also “sing for his supper,” as it were, if the need arose?
By all accounts, Mel Carraway has the respect of the front-line employees and supervisors in TSA’s vast organization. A good leader is one who can attract followers while, at the same time, accomplishing the mission he or she has been assigned. Carraway is also well-liked by homeland security types on both sides of Capitol Hill, I am told. By that definition, he would seem to be the right man for the TSA Administrator’s position, especially given the fact that President Obama is in his last two years and will have to deal with a Republican majority in the Senate for the remainder of his tenure in the White House.
Unfortunately, the same rumor mill that reported on the “thanks, but no thanks” response to Secretary Johnson’s recommendations is also reporting that the White House believes Carraway is “too nice” to be an effective Administrator. SERIOUSLY? This is the federal agency that interacts with more Americans than any other on a daily basis. In 2014, the TSA screened more than 650 million passengers, nearly 1.8 million every day. Don’t we want someone at the top who leads by example – and by that I mean a “good” example?
Perhaps the White House is waiting to see what happens in the Chicago Mayoral elections. If current Mayor and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel does not survive his re-election bid, then Uncle Rahmmy certainly fits the bill as being not “too nice.” News reports say he has mellowed since being elected Chicago’s Mayor and has a lot more humility than the time at the White House when the (tongue-in-cheek) nameplate on his desk allegedly read: “Under Secretary of Go F*** Yourself.” If the White House is holding off to see what will happen in Chicago, or if they are looking for someone else who possesses a “tougher” persona than Carraway, then the Senate Commerce Committee is right to be concerned. Those impacted by TSA should be also.
TSA needs stability in the front office. The workforce needs someone who understands their issues. The travel community wants someone who will listen to their concerns. Good security and good customer service are not antithetical concepts. Effective management and good manners often go together. It’s high time the White House recognized that it can get what it ought to want by sending Mel Carraway’s name to the Senate as its nominee to lead TSA.
And if the Senate leadership wants to show the White House that the nomination process will work now that they are in charge, the Senate could vote on the nomination of Russell Deyo to be the DHS Under Secretary for Management. After his nomination died on the Senate floor last year, the White House resubmitted his name on January 8, 2015, and two weeks later, on January 22, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee reported it out to be voted upon by the full Senate. It still sits on the Senate’s Executive Calendar. There was almost no opposition to Deyo’s nomination last year and one cannot imagine that situation has changed, given the glowing comments that were made during his confirmation hearing.
DHS has been without an Under Secretary for Management far longer than it has been without a confirmed TSA Administrator. It is time to get both positions filled. The White House and the Senate need to act.