Rich Cooper

Feb 23, 2010

Yesterday’s actions by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) to represent TSA’s 40,000 screeners has upped the ante in the high stakes poker game the Obama Administration seems to have avoided playing.  On one side of the table is John Gage of AFGE who made the bold move of filing for election to be the union of choice representing these often beleaguered employees and their interests.

In the other chair at the poker table is Colleen Kelley and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), who is not about to be undone by Gage’s actions in trying to be the union of choice for TSA’s workers.  

And as if these two players did not already make a formidable card playing pair, you have Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) who has essentially declared that hell will freeze over before there is a union at TSA. DeMint has already demonstrated his adeptness to block, stifle, derail and sack anyone the Obama Administration puts forward to lead TSA who even has an inkling of allowing collective bargaining rights.

Even if you’ve “taken no position” on the subject – as former TSA Administrator-nominee Erroll Southers professed – and wanted to look at the information to make an informed decision on the subject, the answer of “Hell no” are the only words Sen. DeMint wants to hear from a prospective TSA Administrator nominee if they stand a chance of surviving his gauntlet and getting into office.  

In the final two poker seats at the table sit DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and her boss President Obama. Napolitano has really not offered much about her thoughts on the subject, other than some fairly innocuous words that make each side think she’s with them. Regardless of what her own thoughts are and what cards she holds on the subject, it’s the White House and President Obama that have to make the call on what to do next. For all of her recent communications lapses, Napolitano remains a shrewd political leader, and she’s not about to make a play unless the White House directs her.

And this is where the White House has to finally make a decision. It’s gut check time.

Will there or will there not be a union at TSA?  

If we are to ever move forward, the White House’s deafening silence has to end. Whatever decision it makes will have tremendous consequences and will leave some players at the poker table inflamed and outraged.

Citing the Administration’s frustrating inaction on the subject, AFGE has made its bold move and NTEU will soon match their action. As the White House figures out how to balance the interests of two powerful stakeholders who helped put them in charge of the Executive branch, they have to keep an eye on DeMint who seems to relish the opportunity to blow away another Administration nominee.  

Continued silence and inaction by the Administration ruins the chances of whatever well-intentioned individual is selected to be the next TSA Administrator.

Continued silence does not address the campaign promises or real leadership needs that TSA needs to have fulfilled. There’s also no blaming this on George W. Bush (the default for almost everything), or stating the need for more time to study this situation.  

This is the White House’s call, and it’s been that way all along. It is time to call the Administration’s hand. More to the point, there is a time to campaign, and there is a time to govern. It is now time to govern. So, what’s the call Mr. President?

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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