Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a border-state governor with a background in law enforcement, will inherit what her new boss on Monday called a “sprawling” department in need of reform if she is confirmed as the nation’s third homeland security secretary.
“Janet assumes this critical role having learned the lessons — some of them painful — of the last several years, from 9/11 to Katrina,” President-elect Barack Obama said, referring to the 2001 terrorist attacks and the catastrophic 2005 hurricane. “She will be a leader who can reform a sprawling department while safeguarding our homeland.”
At Homeland Security, Napolitano, 51, will be responsible for securing the nation’s borders, ports and airports against terrorists, responding to natural and manmade disasters, guarding against weapons of mass destruction and negotiating agreements with foreign governments on trade and travel.
Napolitano will confront many challenges at the nearly 6-year-old, 180,000-employee department.
Among them: Whether to continue building costly fences and electronic surveillance systems along the southern border with Mexico, whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be more effective as a stand-alone agency and how to protect ports without slowing commerce.
Napolitano has a reputation as a moderate on immigration. As governor, she has supported a temporary worker program and cracked down on companies for hiring illegal workers. She also has opposed the federal government’s costly border fence — “You show me a 50-foot wall and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder at the border,” she said in 2005 — and declared a state of emergency on the border.
Some conservatives expressed concern Monday. “From an immigration enforcement perspective, Napolitano is nothing more than a sheep in wolf’s clothing: she talks tough, but her record is weak,” said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
But President Bush’s first homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, and current Secretary Michael Chertoff, both Republicans, praised Napolitano.
Ridge said she “offers leadership acumen of the highest caliber and is an excellent choice.”
Chertoff said she “has a tremendous intellect and possesses the leadership and sound judgment needed.”