White House homeland security adviser Townsend to leave

Frances Townsend, the White House’s assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism who resigned today after three and a half years, may be the last person to hold the position.

James Carafano, a senior fellow and an assistant director at the Heritage Foundation, said having a specific adviser to the president on homeland security has evolved and is no longer needed.

“It was not a failure, but before Sept. 11, [2001,] there wasn’t any structural capacity in the White House to deal with these issues,” Carafano said. “But now what we should see is a national security adviser with a deputy that covers foreign and a deputy that covers domestic issues. And each of those deputies would have responsibility for homeland security and counterterrorism in some respect.”

Carafano praised Townsend for her nonpolitical approach to the position and her accomplishments. She will leave the position after Jan. 1, 2008.

The former Justice Department attorney led the way in developing a number of significant national strategies, including one for a pandemic outbreak and another for information sharing, and in improving the maritime community’s collaboration and implementing a national security officer professional development program.

She also took heat for the thinly updated homeland security strategy issued last month, the White House’s overall lack of attention to the growing cybersecurity challenge and for trying to oversee the Homeland Security Department instead of complementing it.

“The challenge is to quit thinking of homeland security adviser as the big daddy of DHS,” Carafano said. “Where they have been least effective is where they run roughshod over DHS. When they manage interagency policy, they have produced some good stuff.”

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Townsend will pursue work in the private sector and intends to remain active in the counterterrorism discussion.

Perino added that the White House has not named a replacement yet, but would hope to soon.

“We would like to have some overlap between Fran and her successor,” Perino said during a briefing with reporters. “She plans to leave just a little bit after the first of the year, so she'll take us through the next season.”

President Bush said in a statement that Townsend provided “wise counsel” on how to protect the country.

“With her extensive experience, intellect and candor, Fran has ably guided the Homeland Security Council,” Bush said. “She has played an integral role in the formation of the key strategies and policies my administration has used to combat terror and protect Americans.”

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