Close This site uses cookies. If you continue to use the site you agree to this. For more details please see our cookies policy.


Type your text, and hit enter to search:

Who could be the next Secretary of the DHS? 

Writing for Security Debrief – a blog dedicated to homeland security, terrorism and counter-terrorism, intelligence and law enforcement that provides context to the debates, policies and politics that are playing out in Washington, DC, USA – Rich Cooper examines who might be the next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security after the 2016 Presidential election.

Washington is a town of many games, but none so much as the parlour game of name dropping about who knows whom and what position they are rumoured to be in line for next. I don’t know any insiders on the 2016 Presidential campaigns, but as a constant observer of the various players in the homeland security arena, here is my quadrennial hypothetical shots of the people who could be the next DHS Secretary.

Some of the names on this list will make you cheer; others will make you cringe; a few of them will make you laugh; and some are just outright crazy! But every one of the people on this list has been front and centre over the past several years in talking, writing and weighing in on homeland security issues before the current Administration, the Congress, the states, the media, thinktanks and even the campaign trails.

I have my own opinions on who I think would be a great DHS Secretary, as well as those who would be epic disasters, but if we have learned anything in 2016, it is that no one should be discounted or underestimated. Political rules and physics have been completely upended this year as improbable candidates who possess more baggage than a Samsonite factory have become real contenders to become the 45th President of the United States.

In reading these names and short profiles think about the leadership skills, character and demeanour of someone who is capable of taking on one of the toughest jobs in the world. Everyone on this list has a view, voice, perspective and personality that is shaping today’s homeland debate, for better or worse.

On the long list of possible secretaries, there are names that would be exclusively considered in a Trump Administration or a Clinton Administration, as well as those who could cross party lines and serve in the post regardless of the political party label or personal party affiliation. And with that, let the Parlour Game begin.

Contenders for a Trump Administration

Chris Christie, Governor, New Jersey – While he desperately wanted to be Trump’s Vice Presidential pick, most people think he would be a Trump Administration’s selection as Attorney General. That’s a fair assertion, but Christie has had his own experiences with homeland issues, including his time as US Attorney, when he accurately described a section of northern New Jersey as the most dangerous in America because of the infrastructure vulnerabilities, and his time guiding his state through the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. He’s also the guy who stood before TV cameras and radio microphones when evacuations were being ordered in his state along the Jersey shoreline as Sandy approached and told those still hanging around to: “Get the Hell off the beach.”

Rudy Giuliani, former NYC Mayor – His finest leadership hours were undoubtedly during 9/11. Anyone who remembers the 9/11 attacks will remember the poise and strength the then-New York City Mayor showed to the world in responding to the events of that tragic day. Since then, he made an unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2008 and has changed some of his own previously held positions on immigration and security issues as one of Donald Trump’s most public surrogates. A former US Attorney, Rudy Giuliani is media savvy and quick on his feet in articulating his thoughts and decisions and makes no apologies for what he thinks needs to be done to safeguard America from those who seek to do us harm.

Joe Arapaio, Sheriff, Maricopa, AZ – There are always law enforcement leaders who generate controversy. And then there’s ‘Sheriff Joe’, in a category unto itself. He has called himself: “America’s toughest sheriff,” forcing inmates in his custody to live in tents and wear pink underwear, and he has made no secret of his passionate views about curtailing illegal immigration. Before Donald Trump ever started talking about building his infamous wall along the Mexican border, there was Sheriff Joe, who was the loudest voice on border security. In doing so, he has built a national following of like-minded supporters who have wholeheartedly endorsed his get-tough approaches. He may be in his mid-80s, but his voice and thoughts on border security issues are as vigorous as ever.

David A Clarke, Sheriff, Milwaukee County – With a nearly 40-year law enforcement career, David Clarke has become a cable television fixture over the past few years with his critiques of the Black Lives Matter movement, urban policing, public safety and terrorism threats. The former patrolman and detective has been elected four times by huge margins, but he has garnered lots of attention for his willingness to speak bluntly and politically incorrectly when he thinks something needs to be said. Whether in a television studio, a live shot at a rally or at a Congressional hearing, Sheriff Clarke has some bold opinions on how to better secure America from the threats it faces.

US Representative Will Hurd (R-TX) – One of the sharpest and most dynamic Members of Congress is also one of its smartest when it comes to cybersecurity. But when you have a computer science degree from Texas A&M, you have a head start over most others on the topic. That insight, combined with his nearly decade-long service as an undercover intelligence officer in the CIA, working in the Middle East and South Asia, brings practical skills and know-how to his chairmanship of the Information Technology Subcommittee and the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee (which is part of the House’s Committee on Homeland Security).

  Asa Hutchinson, Governor, Arkansas – A former US Congressman, former Administrator of the DEA, and former top government executive who helped create DHS alongside its first Secretary, Tom Ridge, Governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson is an experienced hand on homeland issues. His familiarity with border, transportation, customs, infrastructure and national security issues is truly impressive. He’s also the lead for the National Governors Association on these issues.

US Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) – A recent addition to Congress, the Staten Island native was a successful former prosecutor and district attorney before running for the US House. The community in which he resides knows quite a bit about homeland security, given that the 9/11 attacks occurred just across the river. That is on top of the fact that his district was also struck by Hurricane Sandy several years ago. His familiarity with the needs of a community to be prepared and resilient is just one of the reasons he was tapped to serve as the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications.


Contenders for a Clinton Administration

Alejandro Mayorkas, DHS Deputy Secretary – While he currently serves as the number two guy at DHS and is more than familiar with the department’s operations, given his role as Chief Operating Officer, Mayorkas has earned respect and praise from both sides of the political aisles on a number of critical homeland issues. Over the past several years, he has been one of the department’s most public voices on cybersecurity issues and has shown a willingness to engage industry and other experts on the roles and responsibilities DHS should possess. Prior to becoming Deputy Secretary, Mayorkas served as the Director of the Department’s US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Those experiences, as well as his prior tenure as a US Attorney in California, would be assets to the next Administration, as immigration and citizenship issues will be part of the ‘In-Box’ for the next President in some substantial fashion.

Bill Bratton, NYPD Commissioner – No one has more police leadership experience in the United States (or probably the world) than Bill Bratton. He has led the police departments in Boston, Los Angeles and New York City (twice) and is one of the foremost architects of community policing, as well as using data and analytics to combat crime and improve risk management and performance. He recently announced he was stepping down from his second tour as the NYPD Police Commissioner to return to the private sector, but his experience and leadership acumen in protecting the world’s biggest terror target (NYC) is nothing short of amazing. His counsel has been, and will continue to be, sought by anyone interested in effective public safety strategies and execution.

Ray Kelly, former NYPD Commissioner – A former two-time commissioner with the NYPD, a former Customs Commissioner during the Clinton Administration, and former Marine Core Officer, Ray Kelly is a law enforcement leader of renown. Reshaping the NYPD in the immediate months following the 9/11 attacks, Kelly built one of the largest intelligence networks in the world (the NYPD), while also overhauling the training, resources and personnel to safeguard ‘the city that never sleeps’. Kelly also served in the Clinton Administration as Commissioner of the US Customs Service and as Undersecretary of Enforcement at the Treasury Department.

Ed Davis, former Boston Police Department Commissioner – While Ed Davis may not have the name or public recognition that other senior police leaders have, he will forever be remembered by the country as the man who led Boston through the Boston Marathon Bombing in April 2013. Working with the mayor and governor, as well as every national law enforcement and intelligence agency, Davis became the resolute voice of calm and professionalism that led to safeguarding one of America’s most historic cities following the murderous attack and the successful apprehension of the bombers. By bringing all of the various threads together, Davis demonstrated the success that can occur and be shared when turf-centric law enforcement operations join together and achieve mission success. His leadership in this challenging moment and throughout his more than 30-year law enforcement career has him advising law enforcement community members around the country and the world.

Dr Erroll Southers, Director of the USC Homegrown Violent Extremism Studies Program – One of the most sought after voices and counsel on counterterrorism, preventing violent extremism and public safety issues, Dr Southers is also one of the most experienced practitioners and educators. From a decorated career in the FBI and leading counter-terrorism operations for Los Angeles World Airports (one of the biggest terror targets in the world), to teaching students, advising elected officials on infrastructure protection and traveling the world to stay on top of things, Southers is always on short lists of people to call to better understand what is happening in counter-terrorism and public safety. Despite the failure of his nomination in 2009 to be TSA Administrator in the first term of the Obama Administration, Southers is recognised and heralded by Democrats and Republicans alike as one of the smartest and savviest security minds in the world.

Juliette Kayyem, former DHS Assistant Secretary and Massachussetts Homeland Security Advisor – The self-described “Security Mom,” Juliette Kayyem brings phenomenal state and national security experience to the table. Politically savvy, thoughtful and an exceptional communicator, she also brings a common, practical and human touch to homeland issues. That’s on full display whenever CNN has her on to comment on homeland and national security or whenever she issues another of her podcasts on WGBH out of Boston. The one-time Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate is a name and thought leader on the rise and who garners a lot of respect from people on both sides of the political aisles.

Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton Campaign Advisor, former Obama Administration official – While his work and expertise are firmly in the diplomatic space, Jake Sullivan has become one of the most trusted national security advisors to President Obama and Hillary Clinton. He played a more-than-central role in shaping and executing the nuclear talks with Iran and crafting the final deal signed by President Obama. While many see him as a future National Security Advisor, or even a future Secretary of State, his diplomatic skills would be relied upon by a Clinton Administration to deal with a number of challenging issues with which DHS will have to contend, particularly those related to international partners in terms of immigration, refugees, extremism, swift and secure international supply chains, and so forth.

Rand Beers, former senior DHS Official – He’s served as a national security advisor for four presidents, but it was during the Obama Administration when he made his most public leadership efforts and served as Under Secretary for National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD). Rand Beers was probably the most valuable advisor to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, who literally made no major trip or decision without him. Following her departure from DHS, Beers served as ‘Acting’ Secretary until Jeh Johnson was confirmed to succeed Napolitano. He is now advising the Clinton Campaign on homeland and national security issues.

Martin O’Malley, former Governor, Maryland – While his presidential aspirations quickly flamed in Iowa, Martin O’Malley should not be underestimated when it comes to homeland security issues. Following the creation of DHS in 2003, when he was Mayor of Baltimore and eyeing his run for the Maryland Governor’s seat, O’Malley became one of the Bush Administration’s most fervent and vocal critics about its early homeland security efforts. He became the point man that Democratic Party leaders went to when it came to addressing to whom homeland security funds, grants and programmes should go, a position (and public attention) he relished. As Governor, O’Malley continued his criticisms of the Bush Administration and became one of the Obama Administration’s most vocal surrogates for its stewardship on homeland security issues.

Richard Danzig, Vice Chair of RAND Corporation Board of Trustees, former Secretary of the Navy – After Janet Napolitano resigned as DHS Secretary, the name of Richard Danzig seemed to be the one most bandied about as her potential successor. Why that didn’t happen is anyone’s guess, but Danzig has remained an active thought leader on security issues. The former Clinton Administration Secretary of the Navy is active with numerous security-focused think tanks, in addition to the counsel he is providing to Hillary Clinton’s current campaign.

Mike McDaniel, former DHS Official; Michigan Homeland Security Advisor; Lead for Flint Water Interagency Co-ordinating Committee – If there is anyone with the full spectrum of skills and insights that understands homeland security from all levels and corners, it is Mike McDaniel. Possessing federal, state, and local government experience, on top of a successful military and academic career dealing with operations, infrastructure protection and Constitutional law issues, McDaniel is not someone afraid of getting into the trenches to fix things. It’s one of the reasons the former Michigan Homeland Security Advisor was tapped by the current Michigan Governor to work with the Mayor of Flint, Michigan to remedy the disastrous water infrastructure problems faced by that community.

US Representative Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) – Representing a district that contains the port of Baltimore, as well as the headquarters of the National Security Agency, Representative Ruppersberger is one of the Democratic Party’s most thoughtful and sought-after voices on national security issues. Having served as the Ranking Member on the House Intelligence Committee, he has had to balance all types of views from his fellow House Democrats on security issues, as well as those of his constituents. And he’s done it with great success. Prior to his election to Congress in 2003, Ruppersberger served as an Assistant State’s Attorney, a Councilman and County Executive for Baltimore County. Those experiences on the local level have been instrumental in his leadership on enhanced information sharing by intelligence agencies with state and local law enforcement agencies.

Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism – Her national security career has seen her serve in courtrooms, the FBI, the Justice Department and the Oval Office. Sharp, smart, focused and very accomplished, Lisa Monaco has been a part of the some of the biggest issues, cases and challenges faced by both the Bush and Obama Administrations in the 15 years since the 9/11 attacks. If she does not end up as a Cabinet Officer in the next Administration, be assured she will get there one day as a DHS Secretary, an Attorney General, Secretary of State, or White House National Security Advisor.

Suzanne Spaulding, DHS Undersecretary for NPPD – She’s served both sides of the aisle during her time as a congressional staffer, but if any of current DHS team has a real shot at continuing at the Department as Secretary, it is probably Suzanne Spaulding. In leading the most complex and challenging part of the Department’s structure, Spaulding has had to face any number of challenges in balancing the 24/7 demands and vulnerabilities of her portfolio, alongside an ever-watchful and critical Congress and those who would like nothing more than to cause it harm.

US Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI) – Many Members of Congress talk about cybersecurity, but Representative Jim Langevin is one of the few members who actually understands what it is all about. I argue that Langevin is probably the most senior elected authority on these issues in the entire Congress. He continually does his homework on cyber and is more prone to engaging experts in the public and private sectors on these issues to get smarter before he ever opens his mouth. That by itself is an admirable trait (and an exception to the rule of most elected officials, who favour speaking before thinking). As cybersecurity issues and challenges continue to evolve, his voice and leadership is only going to grow more significant. Those are skills DHS needs.

US Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) – The senior Senator from Missouri has never met an audit she didn’t enjoy, and if you’ve ever watched her in a congressional hearing, you know she is not at all shy in asking tough, blunt questions about management of resources and operations. In hearings focused on DHS, Sen. McCaskill has dug deeper than most of her Senate colleagues in her hands-on approach for DHS oversight. Like any Senator, she has her own state’s interests at heart, but her focus on how the department engages state and local authorities has been a priority for her.

US Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) – Senatpr Tester has demonstrated hands-on leadership on the Senate’s Government Affairs and Homeland Security Committee in several ways. While he’s had his brief moments of partisan flourish in hearings, the balance of his tenure on the committee has been forward leaning and practical, seeking common sense solutions more than adherence to ideological orthodoxy. His time on the Senate’s Appropriations Committee has only honed his understanding of homeland security issues since he has a big say in how and where dollars are spent.

Mitch Landrieu, Mayor, New Orleans – Many people have contributed to the resurgence of New Orleans, but current Mayor Mitch Landrieu deserves a lot of credit for the Crescent City comeback. While the city still has problems with crime and poverty, it has changed dramatically demographically to become an even bigger melting pot than it was before. He’s also made sure the city is better prepared to deal with disasters on the scale of Katrina, which made his hometown a metaphor for disaster dysfunction. That type of leadership would be a further boost to DHS’ efforts to anchor preparedness and resilience on the local/grassroots level.


Contenders for Either Clinton or Trump Administrations

Now, we look at the few individuals who could be nominated for one of the toughest jobs in the world regardless of who becomes the next President.

John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security – When I asked around for recommendations for this list, the most positive and enthusiastic response I received from both Democrats and Republicans was for John Carlin. More than a few times, I heard: “Fantastic guy!” or: “Boy would he be great with that job!” As the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, he and his staff of 400 are responsible for prosecuting some of the most complex national security cases the nation has encountered. From prosecuting the Boston Marathon bomber case, cyber cases, economic espionage and more, the former Chief of Staff of the FBI has a keen understanding of the tools investigators and prosecutors need to put the bad guys away for good while still protecting the civil rights and civil liberties that Americans cherish.

Thad Allen, Booz Allen executive, former USCG Commandant, former PFO Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Gulf Oil Spill – If you could only make one phone call on America’s worst day looking for someone to lead the response and recovery efforts, Thad Allen is arguably the one person most homeland security experts would call. His service in the US Coast Guard is notable enough, but when you combine those leadership works with managing the response and recovery efforts for the Gulf Coast following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and then five years later following the BP Oil Spill along the Gulf Coast, it is no wonder that Thad Allen has as many fans as he does. The self-professed life-long learner now serves as a senior executive at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he leads their civilian market work with the Justice and Homeland Security Departments.

John Miller, NYPD Deputy Comm. for Intelligence & Counterterrorism and award-winning journalist – There are truly only a handful of Americans who can say that they personally met Osama Bin Laden, and John Miller is one of them. Several years before the 9/11 attacks, as a reporter with ABC News, Miller sat face-to-face with Bin Laden and interviewed him about his goals, his beliefs and what he wanted to do in the world. He knew then and knows even more today as the NYPD’s lead for intelligence and counter-terrorism the kind of threats the United States has to face. On several occasions, Miller has put down his reporter’s notebook and picked up a law enforcement shield either with the LAPD, the FBI or now with NYPD, and has proven to be one of the sharpest minds and action officers in protecting the public from all manners of harm and hazard.

Peter Neffenger, Administrator, TSA; Vice Admiral, USCG – If there is any component at DHS that is on an upward glide path to better days in operations and morale, it is arguably the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Much of that credit goes to Peter Neffenger, who stepped away as Vice Commandant in the US Coast Guard to take the helm of the agency during one of its most challenging times. He’s overhauled training and operations across the agency so people can do their job. Most impressively, when he told TSA employees he would have their backs, he actually meant it and followed through. When much of America expected TSA to have a complete operational meltdown this summer, the agency didn’t and instead showed how well it could perform. When most leaders in the last year of an Administration are looking for their next jobs, Neffenger went to the Woodrow Wilson Center to detail the future his agency plans to execute. In doing so, he was recognised by former Congresswoman and current Wilson Center CEO Jane Harman as one of the few people disrupting government for the better.

Fran Townsend, former White House Homeland Security Advisor – She may be best remembered for her service as President George W Bush’s Homeland Security Advisor, but her national security career actually started as a civilian intelligence analyst with the US Coast Guard. Prior to that, she worked as a prosecutor in New York, and her work ethic and accomplishments caught the attention of the George H W Bush team, and later the Clinton Administration team, who put her in charge of multiple intelligence, law enforcement, and national security portfolios. Now serving as Executive Vice President at MacAndrews and Forbes Holdings in NYC, Townsend is frequently seen on CNN providing her analysis on national security issues.

Michael Leiter, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) – While he has a number of distinctions in his career, being one of the few people asked to stay over from the previous Bush Administration and serve in the Obama Administration is probably not one of Michael Leiter’s proudest achievements. Being one of the people who worked with President Obama, his intelligence team and US military forces to bring Osama Bin Laden to his ultimate justice is. As leader of the NCTC, it was his job, working with all of the intelligence agencies, to help ensure that mission critical information got to the right people across government and public safety agencies to stop bad things from occurring. It’s a Herculean task, but as its first Director, Leiter laid the foundation for the necessary improvements intelligence and law enforcement personnel across the country needed to prevent a 9/11-type attack or other assault.

Tom Atkin, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security – While he may have ‘Acting’ in front of his present title, there is nothing acting or temporary about Tom Atkin’s performance. His many positions and accomplishments include: a distinguished 30-year USCG career; serving as Chief of Staff to Admiral Thad Allen during the Hurricane Katrina emergency, where he helped the New Orleans and surrounding parishes get back on their feet; creating the USCG’s Deployment Operations Group (DOG); and a tenure at the National Security Council. Atkin is known for building rapport among diverse interests to serve mission goals. Like his friend and mentor Thad Allen, Atkin is a lifelong learner who is not afraid to ask questions or start a conversation to get smarter on topics he needs to understand.

Matt Bettenhausen, AEG EVP for Security – I know this name may surprise folks, but let me ask this: How many people do you know who have helped protect and safeguard a state that is one of the largest and most vulnerable economies in the world (the State of California) from all manner of threats? How many people do you know who have served as a prosecutor in one of the toughest towns in America (Chicago)? How many people do you know who have helped safeguard the Olympics (London) and developed security procedures and information sharing networks for states, law enforcement and emergency management agencies, as well as sports and entertainment venues in the United States and around the world? I can think of only one – Matt Bettenhausen. Now working for one of the world’s largest and most expansive enterprises, AEG Worldwide, Bettenhausen has spent plenty of time before the media. His work, however, has often been behind the scenes, where he’s made things happen to safeguard the public in truly amazing ways.

David Aguilar, former Chief, US Border Patrol – Few people have led a larger law enforcement force (60,000+), but starting out as a Border Patrol Agent along the US southwest border, even fewer have the hands-on perspective and experience that David Aguilar possesses. Whether as Chief of the Border Patrol, or as Acting Commissioner at DHS’ Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Aguilar has played a huge role in safeguarding people, commerce, and operations in multiple ways. Lots of people have views on how border security should be performed, but Aguilar has a sharper and more experienced mindset that could better inform future border security operations, as well as needed immigration reform.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security for Security Debrief. Cooper is the former Business Liaison Director for the US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Private Sector Office (PSO), where he built relationships and networks with private sector companies and organizations to ensure that open channels of communication and engagement were created to aid critical areas and programs. Mr. Cooper also served as the PSO’s primary liaison with the Science & Technology and Preparedness Directorates. Cooper is a Principal with Catalyst Partners, a consulting and strategic planning practice in Washington, DC, with a focus on homeland and national security matters. In this role, Cooper focuses on areas of strategic planning and partnerships; emergency preparedness planning and response; business continuity leadership and stakeholder development; and science and technology development and deployment.

We are grateful to Security Debrief for permission to reproduce and combine this series of blogs 

Rich Cooper, 04/10/2016
    Tweet       Post       Post
Oops! Not a subscriber?

This content is available to subscribers only. Click here to subscribe now.

If you already have a subscription, then login here.