For a while, it seemed the nomination and confirmation of Erroll Southers to head the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would be a routine affair. Southers' resume included time at the FBI, the California Office of Homeland Security and the Los Angeles airport security force. Qualified nominee, quick confirmation -- right?
Wrong. As the new year begins, the Southers nomination has become the latest Obama confirmation mess, raising questions not only about the nominee but the White House's selection process. And despite Democrats' daunting 60-vote majority, quick confirmation might not be in the cards.
The reason: a growing feeling among Republican senators that Southers misled them. The issue at hand is a 1988 incident in which Southers, then an FBI agent in California, was censured for improperly accessing a criminal database during a domestic dispute.
Southers told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee (both panels had to vote on his nomination) about the incident in a sworn affidavit submitted in October. Southers said the FBI censured him because he had, 20 years ago, "asked a co-worker's husband, who worked for the San Diego Police Department, to run a database check on my ex-wife's new boyfriend." Southers explained that he had only been separated from his wife for a brief time and was "concerned for the safety of her and my infant son." The search turned up an outstanding arrest warrant for the man, but Southers admitted, "It was a mistake to have used my official connections to investigate the matter."
On Oct. 27, the commerce committee approved the Southers nomination, with just two senators -- Republicans Jim DeMint and John Ensign -- voting no. (They were unhappy with Southers' refusal to take a position on whether the TSA should be unionized.) On Nov. 19, the homeland-security committee approved Southers unanimously.
But something was wrong. Just before the homeland-security committee vote, Sen. Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the panel, learned that Southers' sworn account of the FBI censure was incorrect. She asked him to give her the straight story.