Napolitano bids DHS adieu

Janet Napolitano

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, shown here in a file photo, gave a farewell speech at the National Press Club on Aug. 27.

Among the challenges the next Homeland Security secretary will likely face are a "major cyber event" that rocks the economy, natural disasters and terror threats, outgoing Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a farewell speech on Aug. 27, her last day on the job.

"He or she will need a big bottle of Advil," she said of her unnamed successor.

Napolitano departs the position she has held for four and a half years for a job as president of the University of California system. The White House has not yet nominated a permanent replacement, and DHS has a host of other leadership positions to fill as well.

In her farewell remarks at the National Press Club, Napolitano said her successor will face a "challenging fiscal time," but the department's focus on agility and flexibility should carry forward despite the budgetary pressure.

While DHS has been working in earnest on protecting the nation from cyber attack, she said, the task is far from complete. "While we have built systems, protections and a framework to identify attacks and intrusions, share information with the private sector and across government, and develop plans and capabilities to mitigate the damage, more must be done, and quickly," Napolitano said.

Flexibility is crucial in adapting to a world of shifting priorities and threats, the former Arizona governor added.

"I can say that if there is one take away, one object lesson and core operating principle that I've learned and embraced as secretary, it is this: In a world of evolving threats, the key to our success is the ability to be flexible and agile, and adapt to changing circumstances on the ground -- whether that is across the globe, or here at home," she said.

Napolitano credited DHS's 450,000 employees for helping transform the amalgamation of agencies into a more agile and responsive organization by applying hard-learned organizational and response experience, including the Boston Marathon bombing, Hurricane Katrina, the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines aircraft by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Detroit in 2009, and the attempted bombing of air cargo bound from Yemen to the United States in 2010.

Those failed attempts showed that cargo and passenger information had to be shared more effectively among international partners, she said. In 2010, the International Civil Aviation Organization endorsed a plan to identify and prevent new forms of attack by improving management oversight of state aviation security capabilities; institute new proactive screening technologies; improve information sharing, strengthen international standards; and provide assistance in building more screening capacity for member countries that require it.

The Boston bombings, Napolitano said, highlighted increased cooperation, including information sharing among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Hurricane Katrina's hard-won lessons in disaster response were applied successfully to Hurricane Sandy, showing the agency has worked hard to adapt.

The secretary said her replacement would have to develop a strong relationship with Congress to get DHS' share of resources, continue the agency's work to move toward a more intelligence-driven airport security model, support science and technology research to develop more advanced chemical and biological agent detection capabilities, and support evolving immigration duties and responsibilities.

She concluded by thanking DHS employees and stakeholders for their work and support, and stressing the scale of the job she is vacating.

"Some have said that being the secretary of DHS is the most thankless job in Washington. That's not true. [But] It is literally a 24/7 job," she said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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Reader comments

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 Richard Warren

Napolitano's comments on component amalgamation had to have rung pretty hollow for Richard Spires, her ex-CIO whom she failed to support in his efforts to actually force technology integration and elimination of disparate, duplicative systems among those very same components. Her inability to see strategic value in that integration and unwillingness to exercise executive leadership over the component chieftains to achieve it will be her hallmark failure.

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