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Defense contractor ties undo Harding’s TSA nomination

By Laurie Bennett

March 29, 2010 at 8:59am

A web of defense connections last week tripped up Robert A. Harding, President Obama’s nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration.

Retired Army intelligence officer Robert A. Harding withdrew from consideration after his company’s dealings with the Defense Department came under scrutiny.

“Distractions caused by my work as a defense contractor would not be good for this administration nor the Department of Homeland Security,” Harding said in a statement released Friday night.

After a 33-year Army career, including a stint as head of operations for the Defense Intelligence Agency, Harding founded Harding Security Associates in 2003.

The company’s government work included a contracts with the DIA, and with contractors for the TSA and Homeland Security.

The Washington Post reported that members of Congress questioned a $49.2 million DIA contract, which called for Harding to provide interrogators at a Baghdad prison.

The deal was terminated after $6 million worth of work and an audit found that Harding’s firm had been overpaid. Harding told the Senate homeland security committee Thursday that the company reached a settlement in 2008, agreeing to repay $1.8 million.

Harding sold the company last year, and testified that he no longer had any financial interest in the firm.

Harding Associates was purchased by Six3, which was founded last year by the Chicago equity firm GTCR Golder Rauner LLC.

(Muckety note: The Chicago connection is not what it might seem. GTCR Golder Rauner Chairman Bruce Rauner is a big supporter of Republicans. In 2008 he gave $50,000 to the McCain campaign, $28,500 to the Republican National Committee and $10,000 to the Illinois Republican Party. Federal Election Commission show that he did not contribute to Obama.)

Obama’s previous nominee, Errol Southers, a former FBI agent and counterterrorism official at the Los Angeles airport, withdrew from consideration in January.

Southers blamed Republicans for stalling his confirmation. However, his withdrawal followed reports that he had provided differing accounts about accessing a federal database to obtain information about his ex-wife’s boyfriend.

The TSA, the agency that guards air security in the U.S., hasn’t had a full-time chief in more than a year. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, the White House is now struggling to fill what it has described as its most important vacancy.

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