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Possible DHS Secretary Candidates

We are thankfully in the final days of not being able to answer our home phones because of incessant candidate robocalls, or enjoy our radios and televisions because of the wretched campaign ads accusing the other side of various crimes against the electorate. “The silly season,” as election years are often called by the media and Washington Beltway crowd, is quickly replaced by the next turn in the calendar, called “speculation.” In this time of year, people “in the know” and more often, “not in the know,” start to hypothesize about who is going to take over the various jobs in the next administration.

Whether or not President Barack Obama gets another term or Gov. Mitt Romney pulls out a victory, it can be anticipated that after four years, current DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano will move on. While she’s made no public mention of sticking around for another four years at DHS other than the customary senior political appointee shtick of “I serve at the pleasure of the president …,” I don’t think it to be unreasonable to question her sanity at wanting another four years of the most thankless job in Washington. Her nearly four-year tenure as DHS secretary has had more than its share of memorable moments. From her first days in dealing with H1N1; thwarted terror attacks; the BP oil spill; various weather emergencies; and border issues, I don’t think any one would blame her, should Obama be re-elected, if she told him: “Thank you, sir, but I’ve had enough,” and headed to the beer aisle for a six pack of Corona and a bag of limes.

So who is in the wings to take her spot? Listed below are some of the names of people that I think would be on a short list of possible DHS secretary candidates of a second-term Obama White House or a new Romney White House. Some of these people might transcend party affiliations and could serve in either administration because they are unique figures who have the gravitas to rise above politics rather than descend to its more petty and ridiculous antics. I also think some of these people would be really good at the secretary’s job while others would be outright disasters. I offer these names simply for debate and to stir the pot amongst valued friends and colleagues who, like me, feel a personal stake in DHS’s operations and enduring mission.


Possible DHS Secretaries In A Second Obama Term

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. White House photo by Pete Souza

Janet Napolitano – Why not start with the current occupant? While she’s had a few instances that have given her less than stellar media moments (e.g., her comments about the “system working” after the Underwear Bomber attempt), her time in the secretary’s chair has not had the blistering headlines that have endured for other Obama Cabinet appointees such as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner or Attorney General Eric Holder. Her background as a former governor, state attorney general, and U.S. attorney made her one of the most qualified people for the post. Unfortunately, during her tenure of office she’s not been given some of the leeway many had hoped she would have to provide greater direction to the issues of immigration or border security. Regardless of that, there doesn’t seem to be much penchant to drive her from office, and if she wants to stick around for a while, a second term Obama White House won’t have to worry about a confirmation fight since she’s already in place.

Richard Danzig

Richard Danzig at a Center for a New American Security forum. Center for a New American Security photo

Richard Danzig – If Napolitano does leave DHS, there is probably no name given more mention as the next DHS secretary than that of Richard Danzig. The former U.S. Navy Secretary in the Clinton administration currently serves as chairman of the board at the Center for a New American Security. Danzig’s other current posts as a trustee of The RAND Corporation, a member of the Defense Policy Board and the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, a director of Human Genome Sciences Corporation, and a director of Saffron Hill Ventures (a European venture capital fund) literally sound like a list of “things to do while I wait for a Cabinet spot to open.” His previous posts or service at DC law firms, think tanks, the Pentagon and academia give him just another one of those eye-popping DC resumes that make your jaw drop. Rumors have been wild over the past few months in homeland and national security circles that Danzig had already completed his vetting by the White House for the DHS post. The only thing holding it up from going forward was Obama’s re-election and Napolitano’s exit from the NAC. If he doesn’t get the top post at DHS, you can be sure his name will be at the top for any other number of national security positions that might be open in a second Obama term. His background, network and reputation make him someone to watch, for a number of impressive reasons.

Under Secretary Rand Beers

U.S. Depart of Homeland Security Under Secretary Rand Beers speaks at the N.J. Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness Annual Conference in Jersey City, N.J., Sept. 9, 2009. Photo courtesy of Jon Corzine

Rand Beers – Probably no senior leader at DHS has been more indispensible to Napolitano as Rand Beers, DHS’ current Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD). He’s been the constant shadow to almost every Napolitano initiative as well as domestic and international trip. Where she goes, he’s right behind her. Beers’ career is another one of those that you look at and say, “Damn that’s impressive.” A former Marine officer, his stints with the State Department and the country’s national security apparatuses have allowed him to build a phenomenal network around the world to be able to get insight and information in any time zone on almost any issue. Beers is also not a show horse and doesn’t seem to be one of those people that enjoys being in front of television cameras and microphones. (Even his posted DHS bio does not include a photo.) Part of the DHS secretary’s job is being the public spokesperson for the good and bad days that have to be dealt with, and for that reason alone, it may take him out of the running, but there is no doubt he has the skills and acumen for one of the country’s toughest jobs.

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Richard “Rich” Cooper is a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC, a government and public affairs...