Dorian Hargrove 12:47 p.m., May 19
Is Alan Bersin irreplaceable? Obama still hasn’t found anyone to be Customs commissioner
Seems like President Barack Obama just can't find anyone to replace San Diego's Alan Bersin as commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.
So reports the Washington Post, which revealed in a blog item yesterday that Bersin's acting successor, David Aguilar, has quietly gone back to being deputy commissioner because there's a legal time limit on temporaries in the job.
"It was a surprise, we hear, to employees," says the Post.
"Even though he no longer bears the title of acting commissioner, we hear Aguilar’s job hasn’t changed," the blog continued. "'He remains the agency’s most senior official and exercises the same authorities and responsibilities as he did while serving as acting commissioner,' a spokesman confirms."
The apparent jinx on the job began with Bersin himself, a personal friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton and a big donor to Obama and other Democrats, who was nominated to the seat by the president in September 2009.
Only a few months before, in April 2009, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had announced Bersin's appointment as Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs.
Before that, as longtime San Diegans know, Bersin's controversial past included tumultuous stints as United States Attorney and "border czar" during the Clinton years; a trying period as head of the San Diego Unified School District; and a brief run as California GOP governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's secretary of education.
But one of the most intriguing chapters of the Bersin saga began after his nomination to be customs commissioner. The job requires Senate confirmation, but the Senate finance committee failed to set a hearing on the matter, let alone pass Bersin's nomination on to the floor.
Some observers attributed the delay to fears that Bersin's financial ties to border barons would compromise his tenure; others speculated that teachers union lobbyists, who had often battled with Bersin during his reign at the school district, had spiked the nomination.
Obama finally got Bersin the job in March 2010 with a so-called recess appointment, allowing the Point Loman to serve without confirmation until the end of the congressional term.
Only then did the finance committee hold a hearing on the nomination, which resulted not in confirmation but blasts by senators about Bersin's sloppy documentation of his household help.
Still lacking confirmation, Bersin finally was forced to step down as commissioner in December 2011.
The next month he was tapped by Napolitano to be her assistant secretary for International Affairs at Homeland Security.
He's been there ever since, making one of his most recent appearances in San Diego last month, where he told a conference of border mayors that the number of border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico needs to more than double, to 100.
He proposed that the new border crossings be partially financed by border trade interests themselves.