DHS Secretary Napolitano Steps Down: Tough Job for Whoever Follows

By Stew Magnuson

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is resigning to take a position as the president of University of California, she announced in a statement July 12.

“For more than four years I have had the privilege of serving President Obama and his administration as the secretary of Homeland Security. The opportunity to work with the dedicated men and women of the Department of Homeland Security, who serve on the frontlines of our nation’s efforts to protect our communities and families from harm, has been the highlight of my professional career. We have worked together to minimize threats of all kinds to the American public,” she said in the statement.

The former Arizona governor was only the third DHS secretary since the creation of the department in 2002, and oversaw 22 agencies.

She leaves at a time when several key positions in the department remain unfilled, including the heads of Customs and Border Protection, one of the largest agencies in the federal government, the inspector general’s office, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

James Jay Carafano, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, said whoever replaces Napolitano will have a lot on his or her plate.

The Senate passed what he called a “convoluted and unworkable” immigration bill, the sequester has put the department under extreme budget pressures, and there is the ever-present threat of terrorist attacks in the United States. There have been about 60 plots to attack the homeland since 9/11, he said.

“That threat is not going to go away,” he said. The Boston Marathon bombing was relatively small, and the nation seems to have collectively gotten past it. But the next one may be more catastrophic, he said.

Further, secretary of Homeland Security is not seen as the prestigious cabinet position that it once was, he added.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in a statement that “the many agencies housed within DHS are only as effective as their leadership, and it is crucial that the administration appoints someone who does not underestimate the threats against us, and who is committed to enforcing the law and creating a unified department.

“Ten years after the creation of the department, it is critical that its mission isn’t undermined by politics or political correctness. The border is not secure, and the threat of terrorism is not diminishing. The vision and actions of the department must reflect that reality,” McCaul said.

The White House released a statement thanking Napolitano for her service, but did not mention a nominee to take her place.

House Homeland Security Minority leader, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., called on the president to act quickly and nominate a replacement. “The country needs a well-qualified, proven leader to direct this department given the wide range of threats, man-made and natural, that our nation faces,” he said in a statement.

Doug Wilson, senior fellow in residence at the Truman Project and the Center for National Policy, and former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said whoever takes Napolitano’s place “will have big shoes to fill.”

“The magnitude of this job, not just because of the budget issues, but because of the challenges [DHS] has to face every day, across the spectrum — whether it is a hurricane, a wildfire or a terrorist threat, or border security — is daunting,” he said.

Under her tenure, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has “re-emerged from a broken agency to one that is now a template for quality,” he said.

DHS secretaries have to be in charge of many different fiefdoms, said Wilson, who has known Napolitano for 30 years.

“She knew how to play to their strengths and nurture them so that each of them as individual entities were the best they could be, but together they acted in tandem,” Wilson said.
And it hasn’t been done with drama or fanfare,” he added.

“Whoever takes her place will inherit a department that emphasizes quality, but is faced with a myriad of challenges every day, and I hope whoever succeeds her will look to her as a template for how to lead a diffuse and disparate set of individual organizations,” Wilson said.

Napolitano’s four-plus years as secretary were marked by a high tempo of overseas travel compared to her two predecessors.

In the first year, the secretary traveled to Mexico (twice), Czech Republic, Canada, Kuwait, Ireland, Great Britain (twice), Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, and the United Arab Emirates.

The following years saw trips to Japan, Nigeria, India, New Zealand, Australia and Hungary. November 2010 was a particularly busy time with one trip to Panama and Mexico, and then later in the month, a five-nation sojourn to Afghanistan, Qatar, Israel, Ireland and Belgium. During her tenure, she traveled to 38 nations, according to a list compiled by National Defense taken from DHS press releases.

Topics: Homeland Security, DHS Leadership, Disaster Response

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