Napolitano Poised for Top Homeland Security Post

Experience with border security, REAL ID, cyber security, public safety technology and interoperable communications will serve her well.

by / December 2, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Janet Napolitano, governor of Arizona, as his Homeland Security Secretary. The announcement of the widely expected appointment came at a press conference on Tuesday where Obama announced the members of his national security team.

'Today, I have accepted President-elect Barack Obama's offer to join his administration as the Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security. I am humbled by the invitation, and proud to accept it," Napolitano said in a statement.

Prior to serving as governor of Arizona, Napolitano served as U.S. Attorney for Arizona and as Arizona's first female attorney general.

Obama is confident that Napolitano will be a competent Homeland Security Secretary. In his remarks, he said "she will be a leader who can reform a sprawling department while safeguarding our homeland."

Her experience as governor of a border state should stand her in good stead as she leads the Department of Homeland Security with the dual mission of preventing terrorism and mitigating the impact of natural disasters.

"She knows first-hand the need to have a partner in Washington that works well with state and local governments," Obama said.

"It will be my job and the job of this team to hold ourselves and our agencies accountable, to coordinate fully across the spectrum of government agencies and to ensure that we work hand in hand with state and local governments to share information, secure our borders, and keep our country safe, " Napolitano said in accepting the nomination.

Current Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff praised Napolitano who he knew when they worked together as prosecutors. "She has a tremendous intellect and possesses the leadership and sound judgment needed to make the difficult decisions that this job presents."

As governor of Arizona, Napolitano was active on border security, immigration and using technology to achieve policy goals.

Earlier this year, Napolitano signed an agreement with the governor of Sonora, Mexico to track illegal firearms via a Web-based system, to increase cross-border intelligence sharing, to improve the ports of entry into the United States along the Arizona-Mexico border and to improve cooperation in responding to natural disasters and other emergencies along the border, to improve the interoperability of cross-border and interagency communications. Under her leadership, Arizona has also implemented a 2-1-1 system that informs the public regarding fire status updates, shelter locations, road closures and how to help fire victims.


She was vice-chairwoman of the National Governors' Association (NGA) in 2006 when it instituted the Governors Homeland Security Advisors Council as a forum to bring together the 55 advisors appointed by the governors of each state and territory to share common concerns and develop strategies for managing homeland security threats.

As the head of DHS, Napolitano would be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the REAL ID Act, which many elected officials have opposed, including herself. Back in June 2007, Arizona State Senator Karen Johnson authored a bill that would block the state from implementing the act which the governor signed. Then in December of 2007, Napolitano and Secretary Chertoff signed an agreement that will eventually lead to the enhanced drivers license Arizona is developing being aligned with the Real ID. Napolitano opposed the REAL ID Act mostly on the grounds that it is an unfunded mandate which states must comply with.

Cyber Security
In January 2008, Napolitano signed Executive Order 2008-10 which directed government agencies to take a number of steps to ensure adequate security of sensitive information, the security of computers used by telecommuting employees, securing state government facilities against cyber attacks and training for state employees detailing their cyber security responsibilities. The order also directs the implementation of a process that ensures confidential information is not shared inappropriately. The order also directs the development and implementation of a procedure for notifying affecting parties of data breaches involving their personal private sensitive information.

Napolitano may have a checkered record when it comes to homeland security issues, but that sort of nuanced approach may be valuable for the next homeland security secretary in dealing with challenges ahead. Plus, her opposition to the REAL ID Act may mean she is willing to work with states rather than push homeland security regulations down their throats. In short, Napolitano is just the kind of person Obama should have securing the homeland.