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    Tribute to John S. Pistole

    by Former Senator John D. Rockefeller, IV

    Posted on 2014-12-11

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    ROCKEFELLER. Madam President, it is my great privilege to recognize the distinguished career of John S. Pistole, on the occasion of his retirement as the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. He has been a dedicated public servant and leader for the past 31 years. Next year, John will take on an exciting new leadership role when he returns to his alma mater, Anderson University, as its president.

    I am privileged to have worked with John and received his counsel on important issues like addressing the terrorist threats facing our Nation in the post-9/11 era, and helping to guide the FBI and TSA to successfully meet the challenges brought on by those threats.

    Throughout his career, John has taken on many of the most challenging roles in law enforcement. He's fought against organized crime in the FBI and led frontline counterterrorism efforts as head of the TSA. However, for a person who has had to maintain a tough exterior in these roles, John has remained thoughtful, compassionate, and courteous-- important traits which he demonstrated in his appearances before the Commerce Committee.

    After earning his law degree at Indiana University in 1981 and spending 2 years in private law practice, John decided to enter public service by joining the FBI. John rose through the ranks as a special agent in Minneapolis and New York. He worked hard--first becoming a supervisor at FBI Headquarters, where he was recognized as a role model for new FBI agents, and then chosen to be an instructor at the FBI Academy. A few years later, John was recognized for his capabilities with an opportunity to teach the first sessions at a new International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest.

    In the late 1990s, John got involved with the FBI's efforts to fight white-collar crime. In Indianapolis, he created task forces fighting fraud and public corruption, and was promoted to Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the Boston Field Office. When Egypt Air Flight 990 crashed off the coast of Rhode Island, John investigated this aviation attack that would serve as a prelude to his post-9/11 roles.

    When our Nation was attacked on September 11, 2001, John had just been assigned to the Inspections Division at FBI Headquarters though he was quickly reassigned to help build FBI's Counterterrorism Division. He rose steadily through the ranks, eventually serving as the FBI's Deputy Director for more than 5 years. John's exemplary service in that role, combined with his experience in counterterrorism and excellent management of and care for the FBI workforce, culminated in 2010 when he was nominated to be the TSA Administrator.

    John assumed the leadership of TSA at a time when the agency had been without a confirmed administrator for a year and a half. During this time, the agency had been grappling with the fallout from the Christmas Day attack of 2009, and had become a political and media punching bag. TSA needed a strong leader to take on the formidable task of improving the agency's stature. TSA needed to be effective in its duty to protect our Nation, while also finding a way to respond to the public outcry over onerous and invasive search procedures. TSA needed to deal with dissatisfaction within its own ranks, while navigating a tough fiscal environment. We were fortunate when John accepted the President's nomination and was confirmed by the Senate unanimously to this important role.

    Under John's exceptional leadership, the TSA has maintained a compelling track record in preventing terrorist attacks against our Nation's transportation networks. The agency has taken a more risk- based approach to security so as to lessen the burden on the average American traveler. Many people point to the TSA's successful PreCheck program, which I signed up for last week, as an example of John's great work. PreCheck is popular because it makes airport security more convenient and predictable, while freeing up TSA resources so the agency can be more focused on high-risk areas.

    While John was improving both TSA's effectiveness and the security experience for the traveling public, he was simultaneously focusing on improving the TSA workforce. By exemplifying the traits he expected of his officers, and by taking the time to meet with his workforce and address their concerns, he earned their loyalty.

    John took important steps to implement policies that would hold TSA staff accountable, and he also demonstrated that security interests can be safeguarded while allowing officers to unionize. This was a great step forward for officers' labor rights, and has provided a constructive way to handle officers' concerns.

    Appointed from outside the organization, John quickly earned the respect of TSA employees, who then supported him in reforming outdated policies. When TSA moved away from its one-size-fits-all approach, his workforce overcame many challenges to implement a more complex risk- based security process. Without the support John earned from TSA employees, that shift would not have been possible. We will always want better security and more convenience for less cost, and John has done better than anyone yet at striking the right balance.

    John Pistole has long shone as a beacon of integrity in government service. Today it gives me great pleasure to commend him--and thank him--for his enormous contributions to improving the Nation's security. I am grateful for his service to this country and it is an honor to call him a friend. I wish John and his family the best as he embarks on a new chapter in his distinguished career.


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