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Say what! Janet Napolitano doesn't use e-mail? It 'just sucks up time.'

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano runs a department with 22 agencies and 240,000 employees, and she says not using e-mail helps keep her focused.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano speaks to reporters in Washington Tuesday.

While her boss, President Obama, carries a special, high security Blackberry that allows him to keep up with e-mail, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano takes an opposite approach. She does not use e-mail.

“I think e-mail just sucks up time,” Secretary Napolitano told reporters Tuesday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast. “You are all nodding and laughing, but you know I speak truth.”

Napolitano runs a massive and complicated department – forged out of 22 disparate components – with 240,000 employees and a budget last fiscal year of $59 billion. She argues that doing without e-mail allows her to have a better handle on the flow of information she needs. “In this job, which has a hundred thousand different things that happen on any given day, it allows me to focus on where I need to focus,” Napolitano said.

How does she get her information? “I do a lot of my own work by phone.” And she is briefed by staff. “I am constantly getting reports and e-mails throughout the day that come in through my headquarters staff that get to me,” she said.

The secretary stopped using e-mail when she was attorney general of Arizona, a position she held from 1998 until she was elected governor of Arizona in 2002.

"You get hundreds and hundreds of things all the time and I was like, 'Why am I spending my time scrolling through this and responding to stuff that doesn’t really need to be responded to,' " she said. "I also don’t like the process where people could send you an e-mail and then say, 'See, you were told,' or 'You know this.' "

Napolitano was asked whether she had sworn off e-mail for the rest of her life. “I may use it at some point, but right now I have no contemplation of doing so,” she replied. The secretary added that while she does not use social media, like Twitter, “we have found that social media in disaster response is really quite useful.” The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is part of her department. 

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