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TSA nominee faces GOP opposition on labor issues

(The following story by R.G. Edmonson appeared on The Journal of Commerce website on June 11, 2010.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — No one on the Senate Commerce Committee challenged John S. Pistole’s qualifications to become the next head of the Transportation Security Administration during his confirmation hearing on Thursday. But the deputy director of the FBI still faced a barrage of questions from Republicans about collective bargaining for TSA’s 50,000 security officers.

Pistole pledged to make TSA a “a threat-based intelligence-driven agency with a national security focus,” and to place more focus on “soft targets” within the transportation system that terrorists could exploit. He did not commit himself on collective bargaining.

Pistole said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano directed him to make a thorough review of the question, and he promised to include all stakeholders. This is a practice consistent with what he did at the FBI: gather as much information as possible and make an informed decision.

“From my perspective, whatever those discussions are, they can’t adversely affect the safety of the traveling public,” Pistole told Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, the ranking member on the committee.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said that presidential candidate Barack Obama promised collective bargaining for TSA employees in exchange for the support of unions in his election. DeMint noted that Napolitano told the committee that collective bargaining and security were not mutually exclusive.

Collective bargaining “will impose a 19th Century industrial personnel management model to a 20th Century Information Age threat,” DeMint said. It would lead to work rules that created rigid, standardized procedures that were “exactly the kind of procedures that terrorist can survey and defeat.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that you have the qualifications to make TSA a better agency,” DeMint said. “You know how to manage people and focus on security. But if we see you’re yielding to political pressure that would suggest to us that the priorities have changed.”

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, former mayor of Anchorage, took exception with the minority. The 800 members of the city’s police and fire departments were unionized, but that fact led to no diminishment in public safety.

“I would stack the police department I had against any public safety team in this country,” Begich said. “They were unionized, but they never forgot their No. 1 mission, which is the public safety. Same thing you would see at TSA.”

Monday, June 14, 2010

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