The hunt is on for a new head of one of the largest – and most controversial – parts of the federal government, the one that oversees immigration, natural disaster response, and terrorism in a post-9/11 world.
Janet Napolitano is leaving as head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assume the presidency of the University of California system of higher education – the top tier of the state’s system of public colleges and universities with 10 campuses (including UC Berkeley and UCLA), more than 220,000 students, more than 170,000 faculty and staff, and a budget of about $24 billion.
In a way, it’s a move to a smaller institution.
DHS is even more massive: It’s the third-largest federal department, with a budget of $48 billion, a staff of 240,000, and 22 agencies under its bureaucratic budget, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), US Customs and Border Protection, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US Coast Guard, the Secret Service, and cybersecurity operations.
Rep. Mike McCaul, (R) of Texas, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, already has his short list of replacements for Secretary Napolitano:
Retired Coast Guard commandant Thad Allen, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and William Bratton, who headed police departments in New York, Los Angeles, and Boston.
"I think any three of those coming in would gain much respect from House Republicans and could help us at a time when we're really trying to push this border security measure out of the House of Representatives," the Republican congressman from Texas said on "Fox News Sunday."
The Hill newspaper adds several names to that list of possible candidates:
Richard Clarke, a security and terrorism expert who’s worked in Republican and Democratic administrations going back to Ronald Reagan; James Witt, former President Clinton’s head of FEMA tapped by former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco to lead the state’s reconstruction efforts after Hurricane Katrina; former US Sen. Joe Lieberman, who chaired the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; and Rep. Mike Rogers, (R) of Michigan, a former FBI agent who chairs the House Intelligence Committee.
“It’s a demanding job,” Mr. Lieberman told Politico. “It requires very good communication skills and political skills related to Congress, but it also requires management skills because it’s a big department.
“Janet brought it a long way in melding it into the motto of ‘one DHS,’” he added.
Some think the most likely choice would be in a similar mold as Napolitano and Tom Ridge, George W. Bush’s first DHS secretary: governors with backgrounds in law enforcement, Politico reports. Napolitano was the attorney general of Arizona before becoming governor of that state.
Speaking Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky previewed what he thinks will happen during confirmation hearings for Napolitano’s replacement, including “a spirited debate.”
"Some of the president's nominees have been quite controversial. I mean, that's what we do in the Senate. We have big debates over big issues, but they've all been confirmed," Sen. McConnell said. "We'll take a look at whoever the new secretary of Homeland Security is. I can't guarantee you there won't be a spirited debate."
To some critics of the DHS – especially the TSA and what are seen as overly-intrusive airport searches – “Secretary Napolitano’s departure comes not a minute too soon,” as Rep. John Mica, (R) of Florida, put it in a statement.
“Now is a good time for Congress to consider dismantling the monstrous Department of Homeland Security and replacing it with a smaller security-focused entity that is realistically capable of connecting the dots of threats posed to our national security,” he said.