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Napolitano’s State of Homeland Security Filled with Missed Opportunities

January 31, 2012 by David Olive

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered a “State of Homeland Security” address yesterday at the National Press Club and did a wonderful job delivering a very droll message. She is an accomplished public speaker and was comfortable in reading from the Teleprompter, and if her goal was to avoid making headlines, her presentation was a rousing success.

Simply put, Napolitano’s talk was a checklist review of DHS efforts and had all of the emotional impact that most committee-generated speeches have. It thoroughly covered some of the key DHS efforts, but the text was unpleasantly dull, and until the Q&A session, her presentation was lacking in any passion for the subject matter.

Napolitano missed a number of opportunities to discuss the real-world impacts of congressional budget actions. She was asked, but politely deferred, when given an opportunity to talk specifically about how a constrained DHS budget could be spent efficiently and effectively. She mentioned, but declined to bring focus to, what DHS means by taking a “risk-based” approach to security. She did not talk about how that approach makes us safer.

There were a couple of high points in her talk, particularly her emphasis on international partnerships and information sharing; her discussion of economic security and homeland security as going hand-in-hand; her reference about homeland security and efficiency as not being mutually exclusive efforts; and her highlighting programs such as CBP’s advanced cargo screening efforts and TSA’s Pre-Check initiative, which allows advanced screening of passengers who pose no threat to the aviation system.

But for all of the positive data points the Secretary cited, it was sad that she failed to publicly recognize key members of her DHS team who are responsible for the successes she mentioned.

How could she spend an entire hour standing before a packed Press Club audience and fail to recognize the presence – right in front of her – of TSA Administrator John Pistole, ICE Director John Morton or CBP Commissioner David Aguilar? They lead the DHS components that run the programs she talked about so proudly, but their names were never mentioned.

There were probably other DHS officials in the room who Napolitano ignored also – and that says a lot about how DHS operates under Napolitano’s leadership.

There is never a doubt that she holds a political position and her direct staff looks for opportunities to promote her in a way that could benefit her political future, should she want one…and that is a deficiency that needs to be corrected, in my opinion.

Napolitano has frequently said that “homeland security begins with hometown security.” Indeed it does. But it also requires a team approach that overtly does not promote a partisan, political message – and Napolitano missed a golden opportunity to talk about the successes of those on her team whose work made her message possible.

If GAO were writing the analysis of yesterday’s talk, they would be quite comfortable saying: “DHS has had many successes but much work remains to be done.”

Had Secretary Napolitano wanted to outline her vision of what DHS’s remaining work might be, she had the opportunity to do so and let it pass by.

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