The sudden withdrawal of Bernard Kerik's nomination as head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) serves as a stark reminder of the importance of finding the right person for this critical position. It increasingly appears he wasn't the right guy for the job, especially given that none of his prior jobs had anything to do with general aviation.
"To be effective as the leader of DHS, the person must be a politician in the broadest and very best definition of the word," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Our 400,000 members - and all Americans - will be best served by an individual who has made a career of being able to listen to a wide range of interests and then craft optimal solutions. A keen understanding of the many issues and benefits associated with general aviation is also essential."
Kerik's career has largely focused on law enforcement, most recently as an administrator. As important as that function may be, he has zero time in the left seat as a policy maker.
He was also without any experience in Washington, D.C. In a town where who you know means everything, his outsider status likely would have translated to a lack of influence. That would have made it very difficult to get things done.
AOPA members can put Kerik's withdrawal into perspective from the recent past. The first head of the Transportation Security Administration, John W. Magaw, also came from a narrow law enforcement background. Appointed by President Bush in January 2002, Magaw had been a former director of the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Over the course of his short tenure, AOPA often found it frustrating to work with Magaw.
"GA was clearly not a priority for him," recounts Boyer, "and he was not receptive to our many efforts to educate and inform him." Fortunately, Magaw's term lasted only six months, and he was replaced by Adm. James M. Loy, the former commandant of the Coast Guard.
"Adm. Loy came into the job knowing something about transportation," said Boyer. "Not only does the Coast Guard have an air wing, but it also deals with recreational boaters. Their concerns about access to the national transportation system and security regulation in many ways parallel the concerns of general aviation pilots."
Then one year ago Rear Adm. David Stone took over as TSA's head. AOPA has enjoyed a good - and improving - relationship with him. Stone recently appeared before 1,300 members at a standing-room-only session at AOPA Expo in Long Beach, California. Initially hostile, the crowd gave him a standing ovation by the end of the hour.
( View a video of Stone's speech and question and answer session with AOPA members.)
"We know how to work with Stone and his staff," said Boyer. "They appreciate what we have to offer, and we make an effective team. We can only hope the next head of the DHS shares that approach and philosophy."
AOPA also enjoyed a very strong and productive relationship with outgoing DHS Secretary Tom Ridge. Extremely supportive of AOPA's Airport Watch program, Ridge appears at the beginning of the program's video. He is generous with his praise for the program as well as the association's cooperation with the TSA in establishing this government-industry partnership.
"It is unfortunate that our less-than-three-year relationship with Secretary Ridge will now end, and we will be required to start again with his replacement," said Boyer. "But such has been the case with three heads of the Transportation Security Administration in the same time frame, so we are more than up to the task."
December 14, 2004