What’s Holding Up Security Nominees? Alabama Pork

By Matt Loffman

Feb 4, 2010 5:40pm

ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports: Democrats are accusing Republicans of threatening Natl. Security by blocking votes on nominees to be the top Intelligence officers at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security as well as the number three civilian at the Pentagon. We learned why Thursday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked again to have votes on the nominees and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell objected, he said, on behalf of Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Al. The reason? Shelby is concerned his state might lose some (very) lucrative defense contracts. In other words – pork. Shelby calls them “unaddressed national security concerns.” McConnell called it “an issue with which I'm not terribly familiar.” “He is not able to be here at the moment to state his position,” said McConnell of Shelby. McConnell implied that that he’d rather go ahead with the votes. “Maybe we can in discussions with him make some progress on these sooner rather than later. but for the moment I'm constrained to object on his behalf,” said McConnell. Later in the day Sen. Carl Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, gave a frustrated speech on the Senate floor. “They've been sitting on our calendar since December 2, over two months, while these positions go unfilled and we're in the middle of two wars,” said Levin of five total defense department nominees Shelby has held up (civilian positions only, points out Shelby’s office). It all has to do with Alabama-based defense contracts. First and foremost is the large ($35 billion, so large does not do the contract justice) government contract to build a new generation of refueling tankers for the air force. It appeared that Northrop Grumman and an international partner EADS had won the contract several years ago. Alabama would have benefited because it has plants in Alabama. But the prospect of the tankers being built by a foreign company sent lawmakers representing states with facilities for EADS competitor Boeing, like Washington and Missouri. Shelby is holding up the nominees because he wants more assurances that the contracting process will be “transparent and fair.” He’s also frustrated that an FBI explosives lab planned for Huntsville, Alabama, and appropriated for with $45 million in 2007, hasn’t been built yet. Here is a defense offered by his office late this afternoon: Sen. Shelby has placed holds on several pending nominees due to unaddressed national security concerns.  Among his concerns is that nearly 10 years after the U.S. Air Force announced plans to replace the aging tanker fleet, we still do not have a transparent and fair acquisition process to move forward.  The Department of Defense must recognize that the draft Request for Proposal needs to be significantly and substantively changed.  Sen. Shelby is also deeply concerned that the Administration will not release the funds already appropriated to the FBI to build the Terrorist Explosives Devices Analytical Center.   This decision impedes the U.S. military, the intelligence community, and federal law enforcement personnel in their missions to exploit and analyze intelligence information critical to fighting terrorism and ensuring American security worldwide.  The Obama Administration wants to read terrorists our Miranda rights and try them in U.S. courts but is impeding the processing of evidence that could also lead to convictions.  If this administration were as worried about hunting down terrorists as it is about the confirmation of low-level political nominations, America would be a safer place. The administration claims to take a tough stance in fighting terrorism, yet the fiscal year 2011 budget request proposes to rescind these funds, contradicting the concerns of the FBI Director and the commander of the U.S. Army’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), both of whom are responsible for the safety of soldiers and agents fighting on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq.  There is currently a 20-year backlog of forensic evidence that has been extracted from explosive devices, many of which were used to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.  JIEDDO projects that submissions to the FBI could reach as high as 1,500 to 2,500 boxes per month when the war-fighting season in Afghanistan resumes in the Spring of 2010.  Evidence from the backlog examined by the FBI has matched the fingerprints of individuals applying for positions with the Iraqi National Police force, as well as individuals who have moved to the United States.  The backlog continues to grow, sitting idly filling multiple warehouses, as the administration proposes to cut funding for the FBI that would allow them to more expeditiously process this evidence.  Sen. Shelby will continue to work with the FBI to give them the capability to coordinate intelligence as well as forensic and technical exploitation related to IEDs, but this administration’s coddling of terrorists makes this an uphill effort.  He has made the Administration aware of these concerns and is willing to discuss them at any time.

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