President's Second Choice for
Transportation Security Chief Withdraws From Consideration
AP. Washington. March 26, 2010. Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Harding
took himself out of the running Friday night as head of the
Transportation Security Administration, another setback for Obama after
his first choice withdrew in January.
President Barack Obama's second nominee for transportation security
chief withdrew from consideration Friday because of questions over his
background as a defense contractor.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Harding took himself out of the running as
head of the Transportation Security Administration, another setback for
Obama after his first choice withdrew in January because he faced a
tough confirmation struggle in Congress. The Obama administration has
called the job the most important unfilled position on Obama's team.
"I feel that the distractions caused by my work as a defense contractor
would not be good for this administration nor for the Department of
Homeland Security," Harding said in a late-evening statement released by
the White House. The agency is part of Homeland Security.
Harding had extensive intelligence experience that Obama hoped to tap in
shoring up airport screening and other anti-terrorism transportation
fronts. He retired from the Army in 2001, ending a three-decade career
during which he served as the Defense Department's top human
intelligence officer, managing a $1 billion intelligence collection
Harding became a government consultant on human intelligence and
counterintelligence, selling his company in 2009.
Questions arose after his nomination about a contract his company had
with the government to provide interrogators in Iraq. After the
government ended the contract early, in 2004, Harding Security
Associates claimed more money from termination of the contract than the
Defense Department's inspector general said it was entitled to get. The
firm refunded $1.8 million of that money in a 2008 settlement with the
Defense Intelligence Agency.
A little over two months ago, Erroll Southers withdrew his nomination to
lead the TSA after it became apparent he would have trouble winning
confirmation. In that episode, questions were raised about a reprimand
that Southers, a top official with Los Angeles police, had received for
running background checks on his then-estranged wife's boyfriend two
decades ago. He acknowledged giving Congress inconsistent answers to
Congress on the matter.
Obama had waited eight months before nominating Southers. Now Harding's
withdrawal means more delays in filling the top job in transportation
security when the nation is trying to fortify defenses against attacks
such as the Christmas bombing attempt on an airliner bound for Detroit,
which was foiled by passengers.
The announcement about Harding came late on a Friday, a period favored
by the government for releasing uncomfortable news because the public's
attention is light. There was no immediate word on finding another
"By nominating General Harding, the president tapped an individual with
more than 35 years of military and intelligence experience who is
dedicated to improving the security of our nation," said White House
spokesman Nicholas Shapiro. "The president is disappointed in this
outcome but remains confident in the solid team of professionals at TSA."