March 8, 2010 4:00 PM, EST

Retired Major Gen. Robert Harding Tapped to Head TSA

President Obama will nominate retired Army Major Gen. Robert Harding to head the Transportation Security Administration, the White House said Monday.

As TSA chief, Harding will oversee efforts to protect America’s aviation network, railroads, ports and mass transit systems, and security operations for 450 federalized airports.

TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security, and the move was applauded by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.

“Effective transportation security involves protecting our citizens from constantly evolving threats while facilitating legal travel and trade around the country and throughout the world,” Napolitano said.

Harding’s “national security expertise and extensive experience in the intelligence community and U.S. Army will be a great asset to [DHS] in our efforts to ensure the safety of the nation’s transportation systems,” she said in a statement.

Harding headed Harding Security Associates, a company he founded in 2003 and sold last July.  Its workforce of more than 400 provided security expertise to U.S. government agencies in the intelligence and defense communities, the White House said.

The TSA post has been vacant since the Obama administration took office last year, in part due to political concerns regarding its previous nominee, Erroll Southers, who withdrew his nomination in January.