Napolitano Leaves a Mixed Legacy

by Matt A. Mayer

With the news of Janet Napolitano’s departure as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), she leaves a mixed legacy after her nearly five years of service. On the positive side, Secretary Napolitano oversaw an improved response record by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), reduced the number of high-risk urban areas receiving terrorism funds from the ridiculous 64 to the more reasonable 31 cities, and played a role in preventing any major terrorist domestic attacks. Given the behemoth complexity of DHS, that isn’t too shabby a record.

On the negative side, Secretary Napolitano failed on a number of key fronts. First, despite the plethora of evidence that many of DHS’s fusion centers bring little value to our national-security enterprise, she failed to eliminate any fusion centers and focus funding on the high-risk jurisdictions.

Next, she did little to nothing to give state and local officials a proper role in the development of and enactment of homeland-security policies. With the vast majority of America’s homeland-security resources possessed by states and localities, those entities deserve a seat at the table when programs, policies, and laws are created. More important, as sovereign entities under our Constitution, states have a right to be at that table.

Under Secretary Napolitano, FEMA continues to get involved in too many natural disasters that states and localities can and should handle without federal involvement or federal funding. The need to reform FEMA continues to be ignored despite the improvement in response actions.

On homeland-security grants more broadly, Secretary Napolitano did too little to make sure that those finite funds were allocated to the highest-risk jurisdictions. DHS under her also failed to truly improve how grant funding was allocated and the metrics used to ensure funds weren’t wasted.

Based on reports by the DHS inspector general and the U.S. Government Accountability Office, DHS remains as dysfunctional as ever. One must wonder if President George W. Bush was right before he was wrong when he initially opposed the formation of DHS before giving in to its creation. We’ve created a new leviathan that wastes lots of money and gets weak results. Could we have done the same or better by creating a stronger interagency component without the new department?

Finally, Secretary Napolitano’s greatest failures came on immigration issues. She failed to defend and fund the interior-enforcement Section 287(g) program that created a partnership with local law enforcement to apprehend illegal immigrants. She failed to ensure that the Obama administration’s border-security activities and proposals gave governors a say on the security of the border and how best to secure it — even after complaining about border security as governor of Arizona. On worksite enforcement, she changed the policy from punishing employers and deporting illegal immigrants apprehended to punishing employers and releasing illegal immigrants back into the community. With a straight face, she declared the border was as secure as ever at the same time that violence escalated on the border for Texans, New Mexicans, Arizonans, and Californians.

Secretary Napolitano now will move on to the comfy confines of the ivory tower. Unfortunately for Americans, no matter who President Barack Obama selects to replace her, the odds of any of the deficiencies noted above getting fixed are low.

— Matt A. Mayer is the president of Opportunity Ohio, COO of the Liberty Foundation of America, and author of Homeland Security and Federalism: Protecting America from Outside the Beltway.

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