Congress Starts TSA Administrator Blame Game

Democrats are pointing fingers at Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) for blocking the confirmation of Erroll Southers as the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, and the conservative senator is pointing right back.

DeMint’s office said it’s not an issue of blocking Southers but instead that the senator is seeking debate on the nomination.

DeMint isn’t planning on revoking the hold.

A Senate aide told TPMDC that DeMint’s objection was to the procedure Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attempted to use to approve the nomination – unanimous consent.

DeMint thought there should be a debate and a roll call vote, the aide said.

“Leader Reid can schedule consideration of this nomination any time he wants,” the aide said. “But he felt health care was more important. Our view is if the Democrats are upset they’ve only got themselves to blame because Obama took forever to nominate him.”

Southers was nominated in early September and his confirmation hearings were wrapped up earlier this month.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said in a statement TSA needs a permanent administrator.“Erroll Southers, an experienced, highly-qualified nominee, continues to be held up in the Senate by someone who obviously puts process ahead of progress. If TSA is to become the kind of nimble, responsive organization the American people deserve in times like this, it will need a Senate-confirmed administrator. If nothing else, the events of last week highlighted this lack of leadership.”

The sticking point for DeMint is that Southers would not answer a question about whether he would allow screeners to collectively bargain and unionize.

In a statement responding to the Christmas terror attempt, DeMint said the incident was more proof that TSA should not allow collective bargaining. DeMint believes that would weaken security.

Thompson also noted the “key role” Customs and Border Protection agents play in security, and said that agency also deserves to have its leader confirmed in a speedy manner.

In late September, President Obama nominated Alan Bersin to be commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which is part of Homeland Security. Before this nomination, Bersin served as the border “czar.”

Rep. John Mica (R-FL) said in a statement Congress “must change the process by which TSA administrators serve,” according to McClatchy.

“There has been no TSA administrator for nearly a year and the next one will be the fifth in eight years. Running a security agency with a revolving door is a recipe for failure,” Mica said.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley told McClatchy Monday that Reid is trying to get Southers confirmed quickly.

“Republican obstructionism has prevented TSA from having the leadership in place that the organization deserves,” Manley said.

Late Update: TPMDC has learned that Reid will hold a roll call vote when Congress returns in mid-January.