Errol Southers withdrew from his nomination to run the Transportation Security Administration after allegations of lying to Congress and abuse of power cemented holds on Southers in the Senate. Southers, a former FBI agent who was nominated to the post in September, blamed the political process for his decision to quit:
The Obama administration’s choice to lead the Transportation Security Administration withdrew his name Wednesday.
In a statement, Erroll Southers said he was pulling out because his nomination had become a lightning rod for those with a political agenda. President Barack Obama tapped Southers, a former FBI agent, to lead the TSA in September but his confirmation has been blocked by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who says he was worried Southers would allow TSA employees to engage in collective bargaining with the government.
Questions have also been raised about a reprimand that Southers received for running background checks on his then-estranged wife’s boyfriend two decades ago. Southers wrote a letter to lawmakers earlier this month acknowledging that he had given inconsistent answers to Congress on that issue.
In an October affidavit for the Senate Homeland Security committee, Southers initially said he asked a San Diego police employee to run a background check on his then-estranged wife’s boyfriend and was censured by his FBI superiors 20 years ago for what he said was an isolated instance.
But a day after the committee approved his nomination and sent it to the full Senate, he wrote to the senators and told them that he was incorrect, that he had twice run background checks himself.
There were at least three reasons why Southers’ nomination was going nowhere in the Senate. When Congress created TSA and the Department of Homeland Security, it exempted both from labor laws that allowed unions to organize the workers, in order to avoid having labor problems disrupt national-security efforts. Southers was seen as an appointee who would push for unionization by Senator Jim DeMint, among others, who held the nomination in order to get clearer answers from the Obama administration on their intentions. That hold got lifted shortly after the Christmas Day bombing when the Obama administration complained that the Senate had prevented Obama from providing leadership to TSA, but Obama had taken eight months to nominate Southers in the first place.
It was at that time that Southers finally admitted that he had misled Congress during his confirmation process on his involvement in breaching privacy laws to investigate his wife’s boyfriend. That involved two issues of trust: accountability to Congress and the security of private information being held by the government. Not only did Southers himself twice breach the data, he also disseminated it — which is a felony, although long past the statute of limitations, presumably. The Senate should not look kindly on appointees who begin their jobs by lying to Congress, and multiple holds replaced the DeMint hold as a result. That has nothing to do with “political agendas,” but with Southers’ suitability for the job.
Southers may have more of a point on the third, mostly unstated reason why he became an albatross. In the wake of the Christmas Day bomber, the Obama administration will have to recalculate its counterterrorism and national-security profiles. Southers would have been seen as a part of their old paradigm; now Obama has to look responsive, and that means appointing some no-nonsense, hard-nosed people to these positions. That doesn’t include people who think that global warming deserves parity for government attention with counterterrorism and national security.
Southers can make all of the excuses and rationalizations he wants. He’s largely responsible for his own failure to win confirmation, and the White House has flunked yet another vetting exercise.