Napolitano to step down as DHS secretary

Friday - 7/12/2013, 10:17am EDT

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee discusses Napolitano's resignation on "In Depth"

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By Michael O'Connell and Shefali Kapadia
Federal News Radio

Janet Napolitano announced today that she would be stepping down as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in early September to take a senior post at the University of California.

Napolitano called her four-plus years at DHS the highlight of her professional career.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano

"Every day I am inspired by your tireless service on the front lines and your commitment to protecting our communities from harm in order to ensure the safety of all Americans," she wrote in a letter to DHS employees today. "Together, and because of you, we have made great strides in becoming 'One DHS' by leveraging all of our talents and capabilities to fulfill the roles originally intended by those who established our department. We have worked together to minimize threats of all kinds to the American public. The department has improved the safety of travelers; implemented smart steps that make our immigration system more fair and focused while deploying record resources to protect our nation's borders; worked with states to build resiliency and make our nation's emergency and disaster response capabilities more robust; and partnered with the private sector to improve our cybersecurity."

In the letter, Napolitano said she was being recommended to the University of California Board of Regents to be the university's next president. Napolitano would be the first woman to lead the 10-campus system in its 145-year history.

Although some may consider Napolitano to be an "unconventional choice" for the position, UC officials believe that her Cabinet experiences will help in federal energy and nuclear weapons labs and federally-funded research, according to an article in the LA Times.

"Secretary Napolitano is without a doubt the right person at the right time to lead this incredible university," said Sherry Lansing, the regent and former film industry executive who headed the search committee, in a statement obtained by the LA Times. "She will bring fresh eyes and a new sensibility — not only to UC, but to all of California. She will stand as a vigorous advocate for faculty, students and staff at a time when great changes in our state, and across the globe, are presenting as many opportunities as challenges."

Napolitano thanked her boss, President Barack Obama, for entrusting her with overseeing the security of the nation. In a statement, President Obama returned the compliment.

"At the Department of Homeland Security, Janet's portfolio has included some of the toughest challenges facing our country," he said. "She's worked around the clock to respond to natural disasters, from the Joplin tornado to Hurricane Sandy, helping Americans recover and rebuild. Since day one, Janet has led my administration's effort to secure our borders, deploying a historic number of resources, while also taking steps to make our immigration system fairer and more consistent with our values. And the American people are safer and more secure thanks to Janet's leadership in protecting our homeland against terrorist attacks. I've come to rely on Janet's judgment and advice, but I've also come to value her friendship. And as she begins a new chapter in a remarkable career of public service, I wish her the best of luck."

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement, "I call upon the President to act quickly and nominate a qualified replacement for this critical role. Similarly, I urge my colleagues in the Senate to move as swiftly in confirming Secretary Napolitano's successor as they did in confirming her. The country needs a well-qualified, proven leader to direct this department given the wide range of threats, man-made and natural, that our nation faces."

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) also issued a statement on Napolitano's resignation.

"While Secretary Napolitano and I have disagreed on issues like the security of the border, I respect and thank her for her service. Her departure is a substantial addition to the growing list of unfilled key leadership positions within the department, and the administration should move swiftly to fill the gaping holes in its management. I look forward to working with her successor to keep Americans safe, and continue to conduct oversight in order to improve the Department of Homeland Security."

Prior to becoming DHS secretary, Napolitano served as governor of Arizona, where she was the first woman to chair the National Governors Association. During that time, she was instrumental in creating the Public Safety Task Force and the Homeland Security Advisors Council.

She implemented one of the first state homeland security strategies in the U.S. and opened the first state counter-terrorism center. Napolitano also served as Attorney General of Arizona and U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, where she helped to lead the domestic terrorism investigation into the Oklahoma City Bombing.