The security of the Senate will soon be in the hands of a 30-year veteran of federal law enforcement after the chamber approved the appointment of Bill Pickle to be the next Sergeant-at-Arms on Tuesday.
Effective March 17, Pickle will replace outgoing Sergeant-at-Arms Alfonso Lenhardt as the chamber’s chief law-enforcement and protocol officer.
Lenhardt introduced his successor to the Democrat and Republican policy lunches Tuesday, after which Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called Pickle an “outstanding individual.”
“I’m pleased and honored to have been selected for such an important position, especially during such a critical time in our nation’s war on terrorism,” Pickle said in a statement released by Frist’s office. “I look forward to carrying on the fine tradition of my many predecessors.”
Pickle brings to the job substantial federal law-enforcement experience, including 26 years with the Secret Service.
Last March, he was appointed by President Bush to direct the federalization of Denver International Airport under the Transportation Security Administration. He was the first federal director appointed to such a post, where he oversaw 2,000 employees at the nation’s fifth-busiest airport.
Prior to holding that position he spent just under a year at the Labor Department in the office of the inspector general, where he was responsible for communications and legislative and regulatory reviews. He carried a Top Secret clearance and managed nationwide security efforts for the department after Sept. 11, 2001.
Pickle’s two and a half decades with the Secret Service helped make him one of two finalists considered for presidential appointment to be director of the agency in December 2002.
Working in the Secret Service from 1975 to 2001, Pickle served in various managerial posts, including deputy assistant director for human resources and training, special agent in charge of the vice presidential protective division and head of the agency’s Congressional affairs office.
The Virginia native began his career as a police officer in Alexandria. A decorated Vietnam veteran, Pickle served in the Army as an infantry sergeant and helicopter door gunner with the 1st Air Cavalry Division. His commendations include a Bronze Star, seven Air Medals (two with “V”) and the Purple Heart.
He attended American University and earned a bachelor’s in political science from Metropolitan State College in Denver in 1975.
“Bill Pickle is the right person for the job of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms,” Frist said in a statement. “His extensive background and hands-on experience in law enforcement, government and military service is a good fit for the growing responsibilities our chief law enforcement officer will be asked to handle, and I’m pleased that he’s agreed to take on this critical role.”
The Senate’s 37th Sergeant-at-Arms will take on a patronage position, the significance of which has elevated exponentially in the past year and a half. The post’s occupant is charged with enforcing all rules governing the operation of the Senate chamber and serves as the principal administrative manager for most of the support services in the Senate, ranging from the computer systems to making arrangements for funerals of Senators who die while in office.
But perhaps most important, the Sergeant-at-Arms coordinates the security procedures for the Senate and serves as a member of the Capitol Police Board, which oversees the 1,500-officer force. The Senate and the House Sergeants-at-Arms rotate chairing the governing body, and Pickle will come aboard as chairman, as it’s the Senate’s turn to take the lead this year.
And according to individuals who know him, it’s a task for which he is exceptionally well suited.
Former Capitol Police Chief Jim Varey called him “eminently qualified.”
“Bill has a very pleasing way about him,” Varey said. “He gets along with people. He has a very calm demeanor. He’s a brilliant man … [and] he’s got all the qualities you would expect in a great leader.”
The two knew each other well while in the Secret Service Congressional liaison office and have been friends for well over 20 years.
“They couldn’t have picked a better person,” he added, speaking of the threats facing the nation. “Bill has got the background for that. He has the ability to work with the local police and the federal agencies, and he’ll be a great asset and advocate” for the Capitol Police.
House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood also spent years in the Secret Service, and Varey said their prior relationship would serve the Police Board well.
“They know one another; they’ll work well together,” he said.
Another former Secret Service colleague offered similar accolades.
“He’s very highly regarded,” the former colleague said. “He was assigned over to Secret Service [Congressional] liaison [office] for a long period of time and made excellent friends everywhere he went.”
He went on to describe Pickle as a “very diplomatic and well-spoken fellow” with a cadre of friends and contacts on both sides of the aisle. “He’ll be a real credit to the Senate.”
As for Pickle’s imminent move back to D.C., the former colleague, who also called himself a friend, remarked: “That doesn’t surprise me. He’s a D.C. kind of guy. He’s very well connected there in both parties.”
As the outgoing Sergeant-at-Arms, Lenhardt has pledged to work with his replacement to ensure a smooth transition.
And even as Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) praised Frist’s selection, he also lauded Lenhardt’s work for the chamber, especially after the September 2001 terrorist attacks and the anthrax contamination of Congressional office buildings that followed. Lenhardt was Daschle’s selection just weeks before those events, when he held the Majority Leader’s post.
“Let me commend the distinguished Majority Leader for his choice,” Daschle said in a floor speech. “But, I must say, I think the Senate owes a debt of gratitude” to Lenhardt. “He has endured, he has led, he has inspired. So we say farewell to Al Lenhardt. I’m proud of his work and proud to call him a friend.”
He went on to express his Caucus’ hope and desire to work with Pickle “without equivocation.”
Frist also extolled Lenhardt, commending his “state of the art discipline.” The four met in Daschle’s office earlier this week to discussion the transition, Frist said.