Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, has told President Barack Obama that he is concerned about the timing of Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s resignation because it would leave the Department of Homeland Security without leaders in the agency’s two top positions.
In a letter dated July 15, Thompson raised concerns that DHS could be without Senate-confirmed leaders in its top positions "just as the nation marks the twelfth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.” Thompson urged Obama “to act swiftly to identify a qualified and proven leader to take the helm” of DHS as the agency continues to struggle with “major, fundamental management challenges,” many of which emerged under Napolitano’s watch.
“In fact, the transformation of [DHS] into one federal department compromised of 22 agencies, several with major management challenges of their own, was on the Government Accountability Office’s ‘high risk’ list from 2003 until just this year,” Thompson wrote. Consequently, he said, “it is critical that there be a qualified and proven leader at the top of this agency,” and that this “individual must be committed to improving communication throughout the organization.”
Thompson’s letter to Obama makes clear that he prefers a more skilled communicator than Napolitano. "I urge you to seek out an individual with not just strong national security credentials but a strong and steady voice that can effectively communicate with the American people,” Thompson said.
As Thompson outlined in his letter, “As the annual federal workforce survey would indicate, there is room for improvement when it comes to morale at the department,” and it’s no secret that within certain departments and agencies of DHS, there are series morale issues.
“A consistent area of dissatisfaction within the DHS workforce has been internal communications and how personnel practices are administered,” Thompson said, adding: “From my perspective, as the lead Democrat on the department’s authorizing committee, I, too, would greatly appreciate better, more consistent and timely communications between the Executive and Legislative branches. Additionally, it is essential that the next [DHS] Secretary of Homeland Security be particularly open to listening to those charged with oversight in Congress.”
Thompson also said Napolitano’s replacement “should also have a demonstrated record of respecting privacy and civil rights,” adding, “Certainly, there are a number of diverse candidates that warrant serious consideration.”
A veteran congressional staffer familiar with the Capitol Hill discussion over Napolitano’s replacement told Homeland Security Today “there’s a lot of party pressure to put a liberal Democrat in most of these [vacant top] roles — not a bipartisan effort.”
Thompson himself told Obama that “The issue of diversity is no small matter given the diversity of the DHS workforce and the range of interactions that the American public has with the department.”
Among the Washington insiders who are being discussed as possible candidates to succeed Napolitano include Rand Beers, currently Napolitano’s acting deputy and a career civil servant and counterterrorism authority who worked on the White House National Security Council and headed DHS’s national infrastructure protection directorate.
Another possible replacement is Alejandro Mayorkas, who recently was nominated to become DHS deputy secretary.
Other candiates could be widely respected FEMA director Craig Fugate — who is known for his no-nonsense management style and ability to effectively communicate what needs to be done — and John Pistole, Transportation Security Administration administrator and a former FBI deputy director.
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