July 31, 2013 by David Olive
For those homeland security soothsayers who have burned up the traditional and social media wires since the announcement that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano is leaving, most have regurgitated the same short list of qualified candidates to assume the position. Thus, over the past several weeks, we’ve seen serious possibilities, such as: former Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen; former Senator Joe Lieberman; former Congresswoman Jane Harmon; current Governors Martin O’Malley and Devall Patrick; current NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly; former NYPD and LAPD chief Bill Bratton; TSA Administrator John Pistole; and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, among many others.
Each of these individuals has many excellent attributes that commend them for serious consideration, and I feel certain that if President Obama asked one of them to serve, there would be immediate acceptance. A President rarely calls twice. And among the current crop of names being discussed, John Pistole, Ray Kelly and Thad Allen are particularly compelling possibilities, although, as my friend Brian Principato points out, Kelly’s reputation has been sullied in some quarters of late by critics of NYPD’s “stop and frisk” practices. Yet, this White House has a knack for surprises and defying conventional wisdom. So, in the spirit of thinking creatively, I would like to add a couple of “dark horse” names to the discussion.
While there have been some weird and wacky suggestions, as my Catalyst colleague and fellow Security Debrief contributor Rich Cooper pointed out this week when commenting on a recommendation of the Congressional Black Caucus, there are three names that have not yet been mentioned publicly and I, for one, hope they are on a list the White House personnel office is planning to vet because each deserves a close look.
Juliette Kayyem should be on any short list for a homeland security position. Although the pundit class may think she is too inexperienced to lead a department as demanding as DHS, I believe she would make an excellent DHS Secretary. For starters, Kayyem possesses a resume that includes homeland security experiences few of the names listed above have achieved. A Los Angeles native, Kayyem graduated from Harvard undergraduate and law school (a “plus” in this Administration.) From 1999-2000, Kayyem served as former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt“s appointee to the National Commission on Terrorism, a congressionally mandated review of how the government could better prepare for the growing terrorist threat. Chaired by L. Paul Bremer, that Commission”s recommendations in the year 2000 urged the nation to recognize and adapt to the growing tide of terrorist activity against the United States. Thus, when the events of September 11, 2001 occurred, Kayyem had a baseline of knowledge that few others had.
Kayyem was appointed as Massachusetts’ first Undersecretary for Homeland Security by Governor Deval L. Patrick in January 2007, overseeing the National Guard, the Commonwealth”s strategic security planning, and the distribution of homeland security funds. She knows firsthand the importance of state and local officials in preventing and responding to terrorist and man-made threats. She is the co-author of the critically acclaimed Protecting Liberty in an Age of Terror (2005, with Phil Heymann), as well as the author and editor of numerous books and articles, including First to Arrive: State and Local Responses to Terrorism (2003). She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
She most recently served for President Obama as Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security where she was responsible for coordinating planning between the Department and all of its state, local, tribal, and territorial partners on issues as varied as immigration, intelligence sharing, military affairs, border security, and the response to operational events such as H1N1, the December 25 attempted underwear bombing terrorist attack, the Haiti earthquake, and the BP oil spill. These were not exactly “glamor” assignments.
In the immediate aftermath of the BP oil spill, Kayyem directed interagency and intergovernmental affairs for the National Incident Command, leading a diverse interagency and interdisciplinary staff for the White House and DHS to address first-time issues in the response, including public safety, public engagement, environmental remediation, and legal compliance. For her work, she received the Coast Guard’s highest civilian honor.
Did I mention that she was the most senior Arab American female appointee in the Obama Administration at the time of her service? If the President wants to send a message to the rest of the world that our fight is against terrorist thugs and not peaceful practitioners of the Muslim faith, Kayyem would be an excellent messenger.
Plus, she is a nationally respected communicator. Kayyem served as an on-air analyst for NBC and MSNBC News before her public service, and since returning to the private sector, has been a frequent commentator for CNN. Named a CNN/Fortune Magazine’s “People to Watch,” her Boston Globe column has international distribution, and she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. If the Department of Homeland Security needs anything, it is someone who can communicate with multiple stakeholders, including the general public and the private sector.
Before joining the Obama Administration, she was a lecturer at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, serving also as Executive Director of the school’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She has also worked in the U.S. Department of Justice, like former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.
Juliette Kayyem has the academic, federal legislative and executive branch, state and local government experience that demonstrate her ability to lead DHS in a positive direction. She has the right skills to do one of the most difficult jobs in all of the federal government and, I believe, she would make an excellent DHS Secretary.
Another person who would make an outstanding DHS Secretary is Alan Bersin. Like Kayyem, Bersin is better qualified for the job at this time in the Department’s history than most of the other names that have been mentioned.
Bersin has served with quiet, confident distinction during his tenure at DHS, first as the acting CBP Commissioner (more about that in a moment) and most recently as Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer. He brings to the table something no other person has – local, state and internal DHS experience. He has served as U.S. Attorney in San Diego; San Diego school superintendent; head of California’s Department of Education; chair of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority; the U.S. Attorney General”s Southwest Border Representative responsible for coordinating federal law enforcement on the border from South Texas to Southern California; and before taking his current job, Bersin was Assistant Secretary and Special Representative for Border Affairs in the Department of Homeland Security. In that capacity, he served as Secretary Napolitano”s lead representative on border affairs and strategy regarding security, immigration, narcotics, and trade matters, as well as for coordinating the Secretary”s security initiatives on the nation”s borders. He is a Harvard graduate (see above discussion for favorability “points” in this administration), was a heralded student-athlete and was a Rhodes Scholar. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in all of the federal government on immigration policy and enforcement. And that alone makes him an ideal choice to lead DHS as the Administration pushes its comprehensive immigration reform agenda.
Yes, Alan because his recess appointment ran out as the U.S. Senate never voted on his nomination – not because of right-wing opposition from Republicans but due to a spat with Democratic Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Montana) over why Bersin did not fill out I-9 forms for domestic household help. This was a significant issue. Yet, Bersin has corrected that problem and the issue should be put to rest. Although this was the argument that played out in public, rumors persisted that Baucus was really upset over CBP’s handling of a new, multi-million dollar port of entry at Big Beaver, Montana – a location which saw, on average, 5-7 crossers each day – after the Canadian government decided to close the port on their side of the border.
Whatever the cause of the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm him as CBP Commissioner, those issues are a long way behind Bersin now, and he should be evaluated on his performance while at DHS, not issues that existed decades ago. By almost all accounts, both inside and outside of DHS, Alan Bersin is the right person to lead DHS because he alone has the experience in border enforcement; trade facilitation; bi-partisan private and public sector leadership; and has specific international relations skills that the next DHS Secretary will need. Plus, Bersin has proved himself to be a good communicator, educator, administrator, business organization innovator and, most importantly, a good listener.
This year seems to be the year of the “second chance” candidate (e.g., Mark Sanford, Elliott Spitzer), and in that spirit, no one deserves another confirmation opportunity before a Senate committee (this time as DHS Secretary) more than Alan Bersin.
James D. (Jim) Sinegal, the former CEO and co-founder of Costco, is the third name that comes to mind as deserving serious consideration.
First (and perhaps most importantly), Sinegal should have little difficulty getting confirmed. He is beloved by President Obama, Democratic leaders (as evidenced by his speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention in Charlotte, NC) and by most of Wall Street. His confirmation would likely sail through if one of the Costco board members, Dr. Benjamin Carson (retired Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon and a favorite of conservative Republicans and Tea Party adherents) were to come out in support of Sinegal’s nomination.
At age 77, Sinegal’s nomination might raise some eyebrows for those wondering if he is too old to undertake the stress of running DHS. While I do not know the man, everything I’ve seen says he is more than up to the task. And his business and personal experiences give him context and perspective that none of the others have.
Sinegal was born on January 1, 1936 into a Catholic working-class family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He attended Helix High School in La Mesa, California, where news reports say he dreamed of going to medical school. However, due to his mediocre grades, he was advised to attend San Diego Junior College, where he earned an associate”s degree in 1955. He earned a BA from San Diego State University in 1959.
Sinegal started at the lowest rung in retail – as a bagger at FedMart in 1954. There he discovered that he loved the retail business. At FedMart, he worked his way up to executive vice president in charge of merchandising and operations. He was a vice president of merchandising for Builders Emporium 1977-1978, and an executive vice president for the Price Company 1978-1979. From 1979-1983, he worked with Sinegal/Chamberlain and Associates, a company that acted as a broker and sales representative for food and non-food products. Together with Seattle retailer Jeff Brotman, he co-founded Costco; and, from 1983 until his January 2012 retirement, Sinegal was Costco”s President and CEO. He remains on Costco”s Board of Directors. As CEO, Sinegal was well known for traveling to each location every year to inspect them personally—a task that virtually all major retail chain leaders delegate to subordinates. Sinegal”s innovations made Costco the first “warehouse club” to include fresh food, eye-care clinics, pharmacies, and gas stations in its mix of goods and services.
Endearing him to this administration’s political sensitivities, Sinegal is known for a benevolent style of management rooted in the belief that employees who are treated well will in turn treat/serve customers well. Sinegal, through Costco, provided his employees—at every level of the company, including the stores—compensation and benefits that are much higher than retail industry norms. For example, more than 90 percent of Costco employees qualify for employer-sponsored health insurance; the U.S. retail industry average is just under 60 percent. As a result, Costco has the lowest employee turnover rate in retail. If the Department of Homeland Security needs anything, it needs leadership who knows how to address DHS’ low employee morale while efficiently managing its 22 components, as well as the DHS headquarters personnel.
Sinegal may not have a law enforcement background – and DHS is infused, after all, with a law enforcement culture – but he understands managing a diverse, international operation that is dependent upon managing customer relationships and maintaining the security of each step in the supply chain. Plus, Sinegal is a strong communicator and someone who understands managing a multi-billion dollar operation in difficult economic times. DHS needs a strong manager, and Sinegal may fill that need.
So there you have it – three individuals who should be considered as the next DHS Secretary. Each has qualifications that merit serious attention. I hope someone in the White House personnel shop is paying attention.