David Olive

Mar 29, 2010

In the next several days, there will likely be a lot written about the debacle of the nomination, then withdrawal, of General Robert Harding to be Administrator of TSA. There will be many opinions, strident posturing and more than a few vituperative rants about how TSA needs a leader. There will likely be calls for a head or two to roll in the White House personnel office.

TSA needs strong leadership, of that there is no doubt. TSA also needs (and deserves) the unwavering public support of the DHS Secretary and the White House, and right now, there is as much of a vacuum in that area as there is in the personnel office at the White House. President Obama and Secretary Napolitano need to inject some stability and more confidence in the people and programs of TSA. Why they are not doing that today is a mystery, at least to me.

But what is missing in all of the rhetorical barbs about filling agency vacancies is the impact this rhetoric has on the good, decent, hard-working and well-intentioned employees responsible for carrying out the mission – a mission that helps protect our people, property and way of life.

Gale Rossides, the acting TSA administrator, is doing an admirable job of holding things together, and her experience and knowledge of TSA makes her a worthy consideration for permanent head of this agency. It is debatable whether she would be interested, given the political football the White House has let this position become – and no one would blame her if she told the White House that being a political piñata was not her idea of a long-term federal career.

It is OK that she was not the White House’s first or second choice. In fact, someone should take due notice that she has hung in there at a time when others might have fled. What matters is that she is highly capable and can provide leadership at a time when the agency has an image of being adrift – even though homeland security insiders know that image is inaccurate and serious work is being handled in a serious manner.

If Rossides is not appointed, then it would be highly advisable for the White House to make a quick recess appointment, much as it should have done last December in the aftermath of the NW Flight 253 incident. This would not be a political move as much as it would be a recognition that important decisions need to be made (many of which are believed to be “on hold” pending the confirmation of a new Administrator) about the future direction of a critical federal agency.  

Transportation is a vital component of our national economy. To create chaos in the public arena by inept White House personnel decisions does not recognize the importance of TSA’s mission. It is time for positive action, and one of the first steps should be bringing stability to the TSA’s front office.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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