Rich Cooper

May 18, 2010

There’s lots you can say about .  The first thing is “vetted.” You don’t get to be the number two guy in charge of the FBI without being vetted from top to bottom. Aside from the deeply personnel background check that comes with a Presidential nomination for a post as senior as this, when you have a senior career law enforcement like Pistole put forward for Senate consideration, it makes you wonder why he wasn’t considered sooner.

It’s not as if Pistole was an outsider and an unfamiliar entity. His career is a literal dossier of high profile assignments that have put him in front of media cameras, prosecutors, commissioners and members of Congress. In each instance, he has appeared to have succeeded.  In fact, the shine off of his glowing resume makes you want to grab a pair of sunglasses – it is that bright. For all of that positive glare and accomplishment that he has acquired throughout his professional career, he is about to enter an arena that is as oily and filthy as today’s Gulf of Mexico.  

While he inherits a much more mature organization than his predecessors, TSA remains an organization looking for renewed strength, credibility and respect from the nation’s intelligence and law enforcement organizations. Pistole’s resume and reputation is an all-access pass to many of those organizations, but building a long-term institutional capacity that goes beyond his tenure as Administrator will be just one of the metrics upon which he is judged.

Additionally, he will have to deal with the Obama Administration’s long unresolved question of whether TSA screeners can unionize. Instead of helping clear the in-box of problematic and lingering matters to allow Pistole to get onboard with some semblance of ease, the Obama Administration has continually punted on deciding this issue time and time again. As a result, all sides of this issue are enormously frustrated and antagonized to the point where they are willing to take it out on whoever is in closest reach.  

As an FBI agent, Pistole never had the fortune/misfortune of having to negotiate with a union for anything. That is as much a plus as it is minus, depending on how you feel about this issue. Unless the Obama Administration finally summons the guts to make a call on this issue and state what they want to do, another distinguished career risks being muddied by forces that care more about their own political fortunes than they do about real security.

Finally, Pistole will face a Congress that will give him no honeymoon or adjustment period whatsoever. Caryn Wagner, DHS’ Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis, can attest to that. Not into her job even three months, House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson tore into Wagner last week in a hearing because she had not provided him with the strategic plan he had been demanding for weeks.  

Gee Mr. Chairman, maybe she was meeting the people on her staff, understanding who does what to whom and connecting with the other intelligence agencies so as to appreciate how she might tune the organization before checking the box and sending you another paperweight report that will never be read.  

If Wagner got three months, Pistole might be lucky to get three minutes, with Congress ready to go after him and TSA on numerous points and issues. That by itself is unfortunate because Pistole can do an awful lot for TSA if he is given the chance and leeway to do so.  

I do not want to sound like a defeatist, especially with a nominee as impressive as Pistole, but my disappointment at the slippery foundation that the Obama Administration and Congress have left for him gives me concern. All sides could have cleared the decks on multiple things to make life a tad easier for a distinguished public servant who is voluntarily stepping forward to take on one of the planet’s ultimate thankless jobs.  

Instead, they continued their business-as-usual approach. I guess some things never change no matter who spouts the rhetoric. Knowing those conditions, and surveying the wreckage of the previous two nominees, John Pistole still said “yes” to taking on this assignment. That either makes him a nut or a self-less patriot. Either way, we owe him our thanks. Nuts and patriots are always capable of amazing history.  

Here’s hoping we can get him into the Administrator’s office to see for ourselves what he’s really made of. My money is on the patriot.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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