Of all the post mortems that have followed the attempted Christmas bombing of the Delta airliner, the weakest in my view is the criticism of Senator Jim DeMint for having placed a legislative hold on Erroll Southers, the nominee for head of the Transportation Security Agency. Other things being equal, it’s better that the TSA have a head, rather than an acting head. But it’s more important that the person in charge of the TSA be a good choice for the job.
That’s why Sen. DeMint has done a service by placing a hold on Southers. The basis for the hold is that Southers has not answered a simple question: does he believe that TSA employees should be allowed to bargain collectively with the government on workplace rules and procedures?
There is reason to believe that Southers does believe this. As the editors of the Examiner point out, his nomination was greeted warmly by John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
The matter is not a trivial one. As the Examiner explains, there are at least four reasons why it’s reasonable to be concerned about collective bargaining at the TSA. First, it would probably impede the agency’s flexibility to move people and change protocols in response to what it believes is a specific terrorist threat. Second, it might well force TSA managers to share sensitive intelligence information with union negotiators, thereby increasing the likelihood of leaks. Third, TSA managers would likely be limited in their ability to reward high-performing screeners and fire poor performers. Fouth, a substantial number of TSA screeners would be diverted from the jobs they were hired to perform so they can set up the negotiating framework required for collective bargaining.
In any event, the ball is in Southers’ court to answer DeMint’s question. Assuming that he favors collective bargaining at the TSA, he can explain why he thinks the above arguments lack merit. Senators will then be in a position to cast an informed vote. That’s how the confirmation process is supposed to work.
Until Southers takes a clear stand one way or the other on this matter, it is his fault, not DeMint’s, that the nomination is stalled.
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