WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who led the burgeoning Department of Homeland Security through a host of policy changes in the post 9/11 era, is resigning to head the University of California system.
Napolitano, just the third person to lead the 10-year-old department, told her senior staff Friday she would be leaving for California. She will become the president of the University of California system, which includes UCLA and the University of California, Berkeley, among other campuses. The University of California also announced Napolitano’s nomination to be the 20th president of the statewide system. It was not immediately clear who President Barack Obama was considering as Napolitano’s replacement.
“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,” Napolitano said in a statement. “After four plus years of focusing on these challenges, I will be nominated as the next president of the University of California to play a role in educating our nation’s next generation of leaders.”
Napolitano, a former Arizona governor and attorney general, was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2008. She had led the department through a series of policy changes with respect to protecting the public safety, including a focus on enforcing immigration laws.
Under her tenure, DHS implemented a wide-spread policy of using prosecutorial discretion when arresting immigrants in the country without permission, saying her department needed to focus its scarce resources on criminals and those who posed a threat to public safety and national security. She also helped establish a plan to provide temporary relief from deportation for thousands of young immigrants who arrived in the United State illegally and don’t have legal status.
Obama issued a statement commending Napolitano for “her outstanding work on behalf of the American people over the last four years.”
“At the Department of Homeland Security, Janet’s portfolio has included some of the toughest challenges facing our country. She’s worked around the clock to respond to natural disasters, from the Joplin tornado to Hurricane Sandy, helping Americans recover and rebuild,” Obama said. He added that the American people “are safer and more secure thanks to Janet’s leadership in protecting our homeland against terrorist attacks.”
David Heyman, the DHS assistant secretary for policy, told his staff in an internal email Friday that acting Deputy Secretary Rand Beers would lead the department pending a confirmation vote for Alejandro Mayorkas, who has been nominated to fill the department’s No. 2 spot.
While no serious short list of names has emerged in Washington for Napolitano’s permanent replacement, an official said some of the names circulating on Capitol Hill include former Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen, retired Independent Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins. Lieberman and Collins co-wrote the legislation that created the department a decade ago.