WASHINGTON – President Bush installed former Secret Service director John Magaw on Monday as head of the new Transportation Security Administration. The recess appointment bypassed the Democratic-controlled Senate, which had failed to confirm him quickly.
Bush announced Magaw's selection Dec. 10. The administration had threatened in recent days to exercise the president's right, described in the Constitution, to make temporary appointments by acting while the Senate was in recess.
Developing and deploying new security equipment at airports will be a principal task of the Transportation Department agency, created by Congress last fall. The agency is to take control of aircraft security by Feb. 19.
Magaw served in the Secret Service for 26 years and was named director in 1992. In his year as director, Magaw oversaw protective operations for the president and first family.
He headed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms from 1993 to 1999.
Bush announced Magaw's new appointment without comment Monday night.
Magaw's formal title will be undersecretary of transportation for security. He currently is acting executive director of the Office of National Preparedness at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"Given the importance of moving quickly to protect the public ... and the upcoming deadlines in congressional legislation, the president thought it was too important to wait for Congress, and he was confident when Congress returns that Mr. Magaw would be confirmed," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., at a recent Senate Commerce Committee confirmation hearing, criticized Magaw for defending the actions of the ATF at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, where the wife and son of white separatist Randy Weaver were killed. In 1995, the government paid Weaver and his three surviving children $3.1 million for the killings of his wife and son.
Magaw, who did not head of ATF at the time, said he later found that the agency had made several mistakes and changed its procedures to prevent a repeat. "I have carried that with me in everything I did at ATF, and it shows," Magaw said.
Political disputes have stalled some Bush confirmations. Magaw's was cleared by the Senate Commerce Committee the day before adjournment but did not reach the Senate floor.
Addressing reporters on his Texas ranch Dec. 28, Bush said he was frustrated over the Senate's failure to vote on the nomination of Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to be the Labor Department's top lawyer. Also awaiting a confirmation vote is Otto Reich, the president's choice to be secretary of Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department.
Senior administration officials had warned Bush might make recess appointments.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation aviation subcommittee, had urged Bush to use the recess appointment to install Magaw. Mica argued that the case of a man who tried to blow up a jetliner with a shoe bomb last month underscored the urgency of activating the new transportation security agency.
The undersecretary will set standards for hiring and training airport screeners, supervise employees and develop plans to deal with threats to transportation. He also is given the power to bypass normal rule-making procedures if he "determines that a regulation or security directive must be issued immediately in order to protect transportation security."
"I am pleased that President Bush has taken this action to allow John Magaw to immediately assume the responsibilities of our nation's new undersecretary for transportation security," Mica said.
"The traveling public can now be reassured that someone is in charge and is working to improve security at our airports and other transportation hubs."
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Magaw "brings decades of wisdom, experience and leadership to our new Transportation Security Administration."