Last Friday, retired Army Major General Robert A. Harding withdrew his nomination to serve as the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) after a week of intense questioning from senators.
Robert Harding spent his life in the military, serving at the highest levels of military intelligence. He was the U.S. Army’s deputy G2 for intelligence and the director for operations at the Defense Intelligence Agency. He also served as the Department of Defense’s senior Human Intelligence (HUMINT) officer. After 33 years of military service, Harding retired in 2001.
In 2003, he founded a defense and intelligence contracting company based in Virginia called Harding Security Associates. Almost immediately, the retired major general began securing lucrative defense contracts in a post-9/11 world.
Harding Security Associates provided private security at the White House. It provided consulting services for the Department of Homeland Security, including a contract with the TSA. But when it was awarded a $6 million contract with the Defense Intelligence Agency — in an office Harding was formerly affiliated with — the suspicious contract was subsequently the subject of a federal audit.
While not quite passing the smell test for many TSA-nominee watchers, Harding technically had done no wrong, and confirmation hearings continued following the revelation. However, senators soon learned that Harding’s company had overbilled the Pentagon by $1.8 million on one contract. The company had already agreed to pay the money back, but the ice around the military-man-turned-defense-contractor grew thin.
Senators wanted to know: What had the taxpayers been overbilled for? It turned out the $1.8 million became severance payments made to 40 employees — all of whom had worked as interrogators at Abu Ghraib.
Large cracks began to appear in the ice around retired Major General Harding. He admitted to “making mistakes” regarding the overbilling.
Last week, the Senate discovered that the career military officer won a $99.7 million contract in 2008 from the Army on the grounds that Harding Security Associates was a “veteran-owned” and “black-owned” company, and that Harding was a “service disabled vet.” The ailment that Harding claimed made him qualify as “disabled” was sleep apnea. Washington Post reporter Robert O’Harrow broke this story, which many believe shattered the ice around Harding and forced him to withdraw his nomination.
In a statement released by the White House late Friday evening, Harding said:
Distractions caused by my work as a defense contractor would not be good for this administration nor the Department of Homeland Security.
Oddly, the White House had nothing to say about their nominee’s shameful disability claim. Previously, the White House stated that it was unaware that Harding’s company had sent employees as interrogators to Abu Ghraib, but that Harding Security Associates had done nothing wrong in doing so and that Harding’s employees were not involved in the abuse scandal.
The president’s spokesman, Nicholas Shapiro, now only said:
The president is disappointed in this outcome.
What outcome is Obama disappointed in? The questionable business practices of his nominee, or the abilities of his own vetting team?
In January, President Obama’s first TSA nominee, Erroll Southers, withdrew his nomination after it was revealed Southers had used a federal criminal database to access private information about his ex-wife’s boyfriend when he worked for the FBI.
The TSA remains without a leader for the foreseeable future, and one does not need to suffer from sleep apnea to toss and turn over this.