Napolitano glides through confirmation hearing

Friday - 1/16/2009, 9:02am EST

By Max Cacas
FederalNewsRadio

If all goes as planned, a new Homeland Security Secretary could be on the job as early as Inauguration Day. The woman who President-elect Obama has nominated for the job faced her confirmation hearing on Thursday.

A spokesman for the committee tells FederalNewsRadio that instead of putting Napolitano's nomination up for a committee vote, her nomination instead is being sent directly to the Senate floor.

Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee offered a ringing endorsement for Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano.

"You have shown yourself ready to take on the awesome responsibility that comes with being the secretary of Homeland Security," said Lieberman.

Lieberman's approval was echoed by his ranking minority member, Susan Collins from Maine, who talked about her recent meeting with Napolitano.

"I'm impressed with the Governor's background and knowledge of homeland security issues," said Collins, who also finds Napolitano's experience as a border state governor attractive.

In her written statement, Napolitano outlined the challenges she believes face the youngest department in the federal government.

To effectively secure our homeland, we must make the operations of this agency more effective. We will work to create a unified vision for this agency. We must and will streamline communications to make sure the right person has the right information at the right time. We will recruit, train and retain the best and the brightest.

Committee Chairman Lieberman said one of the only criticisms of Napolitano was her lack of experience in dealing directly with counterterrorism issues.

Napolitano countered that she was U.S. Attorney in Arizona during the Oklahoma City bombing, and her office handled parts of that investigation. She said she also prosecuted a militia group that was planning to blow up federal buildings in the Phoenix area.

One of the legacies of the 9/11 report is the finding that the communications systems of first responders, who were often unable to talk to those from other jurisdictions, is a concept known as interoperability.

It is a problem Senator Collins grappled with when she was chair of this committee. In response, Napolitano explained an admittedly low-tech workaround she helped adopt in Arizona.

The state purchased and equipped "patch trucks", which she said carried enough equipment to insure interoperability where needed.

Napolitano also said she would take a fresh look at REAL ID, a controversial and costly program to enhance the security of driver's licenses. She said the Bush administration did not collaborate enough with state officials in developing the program.

The identification program, which was required by Congress, was launched after the 2001 terror attacks to make driver's licenses more secure. The program has been unpopular among many states, including Arizona, because of the costs associated with upgrading driver's licenses.

In 2007, Napolitano struck a deal with the administration that was supposed to lead to her state adopting the Real ID standards. In June, she signed legislation refusing to implement the requirements.

Under an alternate proceeding allowed by Senate rules, the nominations of non-controversial Cabinet appointees like Napolitano are expected to be taken up by a voice vote of the Senate when it reconvenes the afternoon of Inauguration Day, after the President-elect is sworn in.

(Copyright 2009 by FederalNewsRadio.com and the Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Tags: mngt, DHS, REAL ID