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Christmas Day attack triggers spat over confirmation of TSA chief

Senate confirmation of President Obama's nominee for head of the Transportation Security Administration was delayed by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint over unionization concerns. Experts say confirmation is urgent, but any blame for the attack on the agency is misplaced.

By Michael B. FarrellStaff writer / December 29, 2009

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent screens baggage at a security checkpoint at San Francisco International Airport on Tuesday.

Robert Galbraith/Reuters


The Christmas Day terrorist attempt to bring down the Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253 is shining a bright light on delays in appointing a new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) chief, the agency tasked with keeping American's transportation infrastructure safe.

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At the same time, some experts have noted the agency is not at fault for the recent attack.

After President Obama named Erroll Southers, an ex-FBI agent and top law enforcement officer at the Los Angeles World Airports, in September as his pick to lead the TSA, Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina moved to block his appointment over concerns that Mr. Southers would allow airport screeners to unionize.

"The attempted terror attack in Detroit is a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA and allow our airline security decisions to be dictated by union bosses," Senator DeMint said in a statement Monday.

DeMint blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada for the delay since he hasn’t scheduled a vote on Southers’ nomination. Senator Reid’s spokesman said Tuesday the senator will call for a vote on the TSA nomination as soon as lawmakers return from break on Jan. 19.

Southers’ nomination has been approved by two Senate committees, but DeMint has objected to a full Senate vote, calling for debate on the union issue. According to the Los Angeles Times, Southers told DeMint in a letter that he would need to speak with TSA employees and airline groups before taking a position on the union issue.

Some analysts and lawmakers have pointed out that Mr. Obama took eight months to name his TSA nominee. The helm of the Customs and Border Protection agency remains vacant, too. According to the Washington Post’s Head Count project, which tracks the administration’s appointments, 125 senior political appointments remain open and 96 nominations await Congressional confirmation.