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Obama nominates ex-Army general to head TSA

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announces the nomination of Robert A. Harding, left, to head TSA.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announces the nomination of Robert A. Harding, left, to head TSA.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nomination of Robert A. Harding announced Monday
  • "I can think of no one more qualified than Bob to take on this important job," Obama says
  • Harding, who served 33 years in Army, would be the TSA's first African-American administrator
  • He once was Defense Department's senior human intelligence officer

Washington (CNN) -- President Obama tapped a former Army general Monday to lead the Transportation Security Administration.

Obama nominated Robert A. Harding, a retired major general with 33 years in the Army, to become the TSA administrator. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the nomination with Harding by her side.

"The TSA administrator is among the most important, unfilled posts in the Obama administration," Napolitano said. "The president and I both believe that Gen. Harding has the experience and perspective to make a real difference in carrying out the mission of this agency."

"If there were ever a nominee that warranted expedited, and detailed, consideration in the Senate, this is it," she said.

Obama announced the nomination in a White House news release.

"I am confident that Bob's talent and expertise will make him a tremendous asset in our ongoing efforts to bolster security and screening measures at our airports," Obama said. "I can think of no one more qualified than Bob to take on this important job, and I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead."

The TSA has been under the leadership of an acting administrator since Edmund "Kip" Hawley resigned at the end of the Bush administration.

In September, Obama nominated Erroll Southers, a Los Angeles airport police department official, to the head the agency. But Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, spearheaded GOP efforts to block the nomination based on concerns Southers would unionize airport screeners.

Southers withdrew his nomination in January after lawmakers questioned his changing explanation about a personnel action taken against him decades ago.

Harding would be the TSA's first African-American administrator. Southers is also black.

Video: Napolitano announces new TSA boss
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Harding has served as CEO of Harding Security Associates, a defense and intelligence government contracting firm he founded in 2003 and sold in July 2009.

From 1996 to 2000, Harding was director for operations at the Defense Intelligence Agency, where he was the Defense Department's senior human intelligence officer.

Before that, he was director for intelligence for the Army's Southern Command.

The TSA was created in the months after the September 11, 2001, attacks and soon took over security at the nation's airports, including screening commercial airline passengers and luggage.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve and Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.