July 12, 2013

Napolitano stepping down as Homeland Security chief

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who worked closely with Napolitano, says she 'handled a very difficult job with great confidence.'

The Associated Press

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Janet Napolitano has led the U.S. Homeland Security Department since the beginning of the Obama administration, just the third person to hold the post.

AP

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But as the nation saw an uptick in attempted terror attacks in the first part of Obama's first term, Napolitano turned her focus to terrorism. She traveled around the world, strengthening information-sharing and travel-security policies with other countries. She launched a national ad campaign to alert the public to suspicious activity. And she scrapped the much-mocked color-coded terror alert system put in place after the 2001 attacks.

She also was at the helm during a number of controversies.

Secret Service officers and agents were accused of spending a wild night with various women, including some prostitutes, at a hotel where the employees were staying ahead of a presidential trip to Cartagena, Colombia. Eight of the Secret Service employees were forced out of the agency, three were cleared of serious wrongdoing, and at least two have fought to get their jobs back. The incident raised questions about the culture of the agency which Napolitano and her senior staff stood by consistently.

Also, one of Napolitano's appointees, a protegee from her time in Arizona, Suzanne Barr, was forced to give up her post as Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief of staff after being accused in a lawsuit of sexual harassment. In her resignation letter, Barr said she has been the subject of "unfounded allegations designed to destroy my reputation."

Before government-wide budget cuts earlier this year, Napolitano warned of hours-long waits at airport security checkpoints and customs lines, and a near standstill of cross-border traffic because of planned furloughs for Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection officers. At the start of the budget sequester, she even declared that customs lines at large airports, including in Los Angeles and Chicago, were already backing up. But the massive delays she predicted never materialized. Critics said she was fear mongering for political reasons.

Before budget cuts went into effect, the department also began releasing detainees from immigration jails, citing the impending budget woes. Napolitano and the administration initially said Immigration and Customs Enforcement had released only a few hundred people. The Associated Press later reported that internal department documents showed that more than 2,000 people had been released for budget reasons. Napolitano publicly rejected that report, saying it was "not really accurate." Days later, ICE Director John Morton told a House panel that 2,228 people had been released.

"Janet's portfolio has included some of the toughest challenges facing our country," Obama said in a statement Friday. "She's worked around the clock to respond to natural disasters, from the Joplin tornado to Hurricane Sandy, helping Americans recover and rebuild."

He said, the American people "are safer and more secure thanks to Janet's leadership in protecting our homeland against terrorist attacks."

She said in a statement, "The opportunity to work with the dedicated men and women of the Department of Homeland Security, who serve on the front lines of our nation's efforts to protect our communities and families from harm, has been the highlight of my professional career."

In California, she will take her new job as the university system grapples with growing student demand, tighter budgets and complaints about tuition that has nearly doubled over the past five years. She will succeed President Mark Yudof, who led the system through a tumultuous five years marked by unprecedented budget cuts, sharp tuition hikes, employee furloughs and rowdy campus protests. After several years of deep budget cuts, Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month signed a state budget that boosts funding, but the system still faces serious financial challenges from rising costs for employee salaries, retirement benefits and other expenses.

Over the past years, the university system has significantly increased the number of out-of-state students who pay three times the tuition of in-state residents, prompting complaints that many top California students are being shut out of the most prestigious state campuses.

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