Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 16, 2009

Napolitano Spells Out the Plan for DHS

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 16, 2009

Secretary-designate for DHS, Janet Napolitano, appeared yesterday before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for her confirmation hearing. While responding to questions from the Senators, she outlined her concept of success should she be confirmed as the third Secretary of Homeland Security. In her words, “speed, skill, compassion, and common sense” are top attributes of success in the DHS mission going forward.

Governor Napolitano offered the following as top priorities for the next DHS Secretary:
1. Create a unified vision for DHS
2. Create a unified culture through consistent guidance on such practices as acquisition and management
3. Recruit the best and brightest for nominees in other DHS slots
4. Complete the work of transition, such as gaining a better grasp of parts of DHS yet unknown to her

In a powerful gesture of bipartisanship and support, Senators McCain and Kyl introduced Napolitano to the panel. Each of the Senators who participated in the hearing – Lieberman, Collins, McCaskill, Akaka, Landrieu, Tester, Voinovich, and Carper – appeared to support the Arizona governor’s nomination. They praised her experience, but the nominee also had a few areas she acknowledged as in need of her immediate attention.

As a border governor, Napolitano brings useful credibility to the border security effort, but she cited the need for her to familiarize herself with the northern border. The Senators raised this frequently, too. She also suggested that the federal government cannot accomplish the homeland security mission without a more inclusive role for the states and localities on the front lines across the country.

The hearing was not without its parochialism in that the Senator from Maine urged “a baseline of [homeland security] capabilities in every state,” the sponsor of the failed comprehensive immigration reform praised the nominee for agreeing with him and expected her to pick up the torch, and the distinguished gentleman from Hawaii requested support from DHS to impose rules on foreign shippers traveling through the island waters.

Other issues the panel raised were spot on. For example, Sen. Landrieu (LA) passionately advocated for interoperable communications for first responders. Indeed, nearly every Senator spoke of that as a priority goal. Border security – specifically including the northern border – enjoyed attention, and so did REAL ID, which was almost uniformly criticized. Cyber security, to be sure, was cited by nearly all as a worthy priority.

What did we learn about the next Secretary of Homeland Security? She is close to the President-elect and consistent with his message of desired change, inclusiveness, and plain smart decision-making for the greater good. She’s able to handle the Hill, and has numerous endorsements from interest groups. But other indicators of her leadership priorities come through in the answers to her pre-hearing questions (all 83 pages of them). From them we can learn a lot. For example, Secretary-designate Napolitano:

• Recognizes the value of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (see Sections II and III of the pre-hearing questions);

• Hasn’t taken a position on White House management of the policy process viz. the HSC and NSC (see question 8 of the pre-hearing questions);

• Is intent on strengthening the international affairs capacity of DHS (see her response to question 18 of the pre-hearing questions).

Finally, Napolitano’s words on DHS management indicate the kind of professional management priorities she and the President-elect have in store for the Department. Napolitano offers to focus on an approach that:

• Provides structure to strengthen unified organizational governance and enhance Department-wide communication, decision-making, and oversight;

• Optimizes processes and systems to integrate functional operations and facilitate cross-component collaboration, and streamline coordination to ensure reliable and efficient support of mission objectives;

• Fosters leadership that adheres to the core values and guiding principles of DHS in performing duties, effecting progress, and leading with commitment for the mission; and

• Leverages culture and the benefits of commonalities and differences across components to promote cooperative intra- and inter-agency networks to implement best practices.

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Comment by Claire B. Rubin

January 16, 2009 @ 8:15 am

I am surprised no one asked her views on FEMA.

Comment by Jonah Czerwinski

January 16, 2009 @ 8:23 am

Claire — They did talk around the question of FEMA’s placement, but most of it was on performance. Here is an excerpt from Rob Margetta and Dan Fowler’s piece in CQ Homeland Security this morning:

Finding FEMA
One policy debate that many experts believed Napolitano would have to weigh in on never came up in open questioning: whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be pulled out of DHS, as some in security circles have advocated. The issue did appear in the written questions submitted by senators and received a noncommittal answer from Napolitano.

“The issue of FEMA’s status is not a simple one and does not lend itself to short answers or merely reactive measures. As long as FEMA remains at DHS, I will work to incorporate FEMA within DHS so that it achieves maximum effectiveness,” she said in a passage where she noted that there is “considerable debate on the subject” and pledged to “review in depth the issues surrounding FEMA’s roles and responsibilities.”

Lieberman and Collins made their feelings on the issue known early in the hearing.

“I believe that is exactly the wrong way to go,” Lieberman said in his opening statement. “It makes no sense. It would take us back to where we were on 9/11, when the terrorists exploited the vulnerability, our national vulnerability, caused by the separation and balkanization of our many homeland security agencies and attack and kill 3,000 people. . . . I will do all that I can to stop such disintegration.”

In her own opening statement, Collins said FEMA “forms the core” of DHS’s capability for preparedness and response, and hoped Napolitano would listen to her, Lieberman “and the nation’s firefighters and first responders on the issue.”

She said the agency was transformed into a stronger organization after the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006. Detaching it from DHS “in the vain hope of recapturing some mythical FEMA of bygone days” would weaken DHS’s response capability and cause duplication of effort across federal departments.

The closest Napolitano came to commenting on FEMA during the hearing was in response to questions from Louisiana Democrat Mary L. Landrieu, who criticized recent comments from President Bush about the speed of FEMA’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina.

“No one, except maybe the outgoing president, in the entire world would say the response was quick,” Landrieu said.

Cooper said he was very surprised there wasn’t a direct question about FEMA’s future. “But that being said, I don’t think there is any doubt whatsoever, FEMA remains part of the Department of Homeland Security under Gov. Napolitano.”

While FEMA’s future might not be clear, Napolitano was definitive regarding her plans to visit New Orleans to assess the situation and FEMA’s role in the region once she becomes secretary. She said the agency plays a key role in response and recovery and that she understands the agency has been strengthened in response to criticism from Congress.

“Those are all areas that FEMA has expertise in,” Napolitano said. “They must be marshaled and then recognize that FEMA, like so many areas of this department, has to work with state and local authorities.”

Napolitano also promised Landrieu she would take “a serious look” at how Katrina recovery responsibilities are split between the federal and state government.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 16, 2009 @ 10:50 am

Once again the FEMA question can be resolved in a variety of ways. But first, two questions need to be answered by NOON Tuesday. First, who is President Obama’s domestic crisis manager and what system or process does he operate. Hypothetically, a domestic incident or accident or event involving WMD requires that the interested public have that answer and have confidence in that answer. The second question is as follows: Is FEMA the Executive Branch safety net, even beyond funding and information (note that the declaration of Emergency in the District of Columbia for Tuesday was perfectly legal but also indicates that no real planning or budgeting for the inaugral event had occurred and poor little FEMA had to bail out that lack of effort from the President’s Disaster Relief Fund)? Or part two of the second question, is FEMA merely a funding mechanizm that coordiates and collaborates, but is NOT the safety net and does not need to be a fully operational agency to cover the full spectrum of all-hazards events including terrorism because other Executive Branch organizations have that mission? In that event it is interesting that none of the questions dealt either with DOD or DOJ relationships and overall we can conclude that at this point, the Secretary designate thinks she has been handed an exclusively law enforcement job (she was a US Attorny)and not sure what, if any, her role is DOMESTIC CRISIS MANAGEMENT. AS to Senator’s Collins and Lieberman they think everything with the NEW FEMA is hunky dory and no changes need to be made. We now know from the FEMA TRANSITION Report that internal delegations, reporting mechanizims, reporting relationships, budgeting, and staffing are entirely absent from that report. Assigned FEMA missions by the past President and Secretary DHS are not documented including specifically roles and responsibilities under Statutes, Executive Orders, HSPD’s and NSPD’s and no clue as to what the key issues are that confront FEMA in the next 180 days. I believe that based on this hearing the basic competence of Senator Collins and Lieberman can be questioned since they are clearly in the “Hope it does not happen on my watch” Bunch. Is the same true for the President Elect? Hoping Not. Time will tell.

Comment by Charlie J.

January 16, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

Where can I get a copy of Napolitano’s responses to the “83 pre-hearing questions” that you reference in your post? These would provide a wealth of information but I cannot locate them on the HSGAC web site…

Comment by Jonah Czerwinski

January 16, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

Charlie — I have only a hard copy of the pre-hearing questionnaire. I believe that you can access it at or request copies from the Senate Committee office.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 17, 2009 @ 11:58 am

There is a long Q&A put out by Heritage that seems to overlap Committee questions unrelated to the normal Senate vetting questionaire. On Heritage Web Site I believe if not contact me at vacationlanegrp@aol.com

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