As the end of the Bush Administration approaches and Inaugural preparations and debate over the President-Elect’s Economic Plan are in full swing, confirmation hearings for the incoming Administration Cabinet Secretaries are underway.  These hearings have an almost rubber-stamp quality to them, especially when the nominees are well-known or extremely well-qualified; have no controversies or skeletons to derail the process; and the political party making the nomination is the same political party controlling the confirmation hearing.

That is pretty much the case with DHS Secretary-nominee Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, who has her confirmation this Thursday (January 15th) before the Senate’s Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee.  While clear sailing seems to be forecast for her confirmation for one of the toughest jobs in the world, she will still have to answer some fairly direct, contentious and sometimes volatile questions.

Since I have no future as a prospective US Senator and no chance to ask questions at these hearings, I thought I would take a shot at crafting questions that I would ask if I was given the opportunity.

Outlined below are 20 different question areas (plus a bonus) that I think merit consideration.

Future of FEMA

•    Governor Napolitano, let’s clear up probably the most contentious issue on the future of DHS – As you lead the Department, do you see FEMA as part of DHS or should it be moved out to become a separate, independent entity reporting directly to the President?

Immigration Enforcement

•    The Bush Administration has made the aggressive enforcement of immigration laws part of its homeland security strategy .  As a result of these efforts and improvements to our overall border security, there has been a reduction in illegal immigration into the US.  These efforts have not been without controversy though.  The enforcement actions undertaken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been assailed by some communities and their agents have been compared to terrorists by some Members of Congress.  What are your thoughts on the enforcement measures of the past few years?  What has worked or not worked based upon your experiences as a Governor, State Attorney General and US Attorney for Arizona?  How do you see enforcement being executed under your tenure?

Temporary Worker Program

•    As Congress was working on a comprehensive immigration bill this past session, one of the most challenging aspects was the creation of a Temporary Worker Program.  Given the rising unemployment figures in the country, do we still need such a program? If so, what do you think it should include?  If not, what do we do with those persons here illegally who are already living and working within the US?

Information Sharing

•    As a former US Attorney, former State Attorney General and as a sitting Governor, you have been briefed on sensitive cases that pertain to security threats and the measures to stop those threats from becoming reality.  Do you feel that you and your state were given enough information to be ready to respond to those threats?  What needs to be done to improve our information sharing with states, and what changes do you see necessary to make those improvements possible?  How will the Fusion Centers evolve under your leadership?

Border Fence & Future of the Secure Border Initiative

•    Your leadership and experience on border issues is undisputed, but a often-attributed quote of yours states: “If you build a 50 foot high fence, I’ll show you a 51 foot high ladder.”  With that analogy in mind, combined with the fact that the fence being constructed along the Southwest Border is nearing completion, do you think a border fence is in the best interests of the US?

•    With the doubling of the size of the Border Patrol and emerging technologies still underway with the Secure Border Initiative Program, what modifications to the existing border strategy are necessary to have a secure border with Mexico?  What lessons have you learned as a Governor that will shape how we undertake security with our northern border with Canada?

Accountability and Effectiveness of Grant Dollars

•    As a border state that has also had its share of all-hazard experiences (wildfires, floods, etc.) as well as major event planning and execution – Super Bowl XLII – 2008; major college bowl games; etc.), what has Arizona done to make sure the grant dollars it has received over the past five years were spent wisely and effectively?  What performance metrics, follow-through and accountability were put in place to make sure that your State agencies, counties, major cities, local and tribal governments were working together to leverage the grant dollars they received?


•    From its inception, the REAL-ID Program has been a bitter pill for states to accept and implement.  As a Governor who has had to contend with and implement the program, what lessons learned and changes do you see needed to make the program more successful and ultimately palatable to the States?

Cyber Security

•    As a candidate, President-Elect Obama spoke of appointing a Cyber Czar to work out of the White House to address the cyber security threat.  The Congressionally charted Commission on Cyber Security for the 44th Presidency in its recently-issued final report supported having the White House play such a role.  Given the role that DHS plays in helping to lead and coordinate infrastructure protection across its 18-defined sectors, how do see such a White House role helping or hindering the Department’s efforts in this critical area?

Readiness for the Next Attack

•    Recent history has proven that Al Qaeda and its sympathizers strike early in the terms of newly elected leaders in the countries that it deems as hostile to their interests.  Both Sen. McCain and then-Sen. Obama both agreed on this during the campaign and warned that the next President would be tested by an attack early in his Administration.  What do you see as essential to get yourself, the new Administration and the Department you are being considered to lead as ready to react and respond should that attack be in the imminent future?

DHS Employee Morale & TSA Collective Bargaining Rights

•    Over the past several years, a number of polls of the federal workforce have been conducted and in all of those surveys, DHS has ranked consistently at the bottom in terms of its employee morale.  What can you do to elevate that ranking and improve the overall standing and morale of DHS’ employees?

•    From its creation, first as an independent agency and later as part of DHS, the Bush Administration has opposed efforts by members of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) workforce from forming a union, citing the security nature of the work.  Will you and the Obama Administration reverse course and allow TSA’s workers to form a union and give them collective bargaining rights?  If so, will you extend those rights to other portions of the Department’s workforce?

DHS Management

•    Since its creation, DHS has had its share of management challenges.  From budgeting and procurement difficulties; lack of physical (and often operational) infrastructure to bring the Department together; poor human capital practices; and so forth, DHS has had some significant difficulties getting its house in order.  While considerable improvement has occurred in recent years due to the Department’s maturing and leadership focus on these areas, what outstanding management challenges do you see for DHS and how do you propose to address them?

Cargo Screening Mandates

•    Over the past few years, Congress has enacted a number of mandates requiring increased and in some cases 100% screening of all cargo containers entering the US from foreign ports.  Recognizing that Arizona has thousands of containers coming in from its Southern border, as well as its airports, can you elaborate on how you and your state have addressed these requirements and what impacts, positive and negative, have been the experienced?  Additionally, what lessons will you apply from these experiences to satisfy the legislated requirements?  Do you foresee the need for any prospective waivers because they can not be met?

Role of the Private Sector in Homeland Security & Title IX

•    As you know, the private sector plays an important role in all of the Department’s efforts secure the nation.  What additional roles and expectations do you have for the private sector in addressing the all-hazard threats facing the homeland?  Do you foresee the need for possible regulations or will efforts such as those enacted by Congress under the recently passed Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 under Title IX, Establishing Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Standards Program suffice?


•    When DHS was created, Congress established a first of its kind tool, the SAFETY (Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies) Act to provide critical liability protections for the developers, providers and users of approved technologies, products and services in the event there is an “Act of Terrorism.”  Today, more than 250 different technologies, products and services have been granted SAFETY Act protections and are in service around the US and world.  What are your thoughts on the SAFETY Act?  Should efforts be undertaken to extend its protections beyond “Acts of Terrorism” to encompass ‘all-hazards’ and should efforts be undertaken to extend SAFETY Act protections internationally?

Use of Technology/Civil Liberties

•    Technology offers a range of means to help the Department do its various jobs but it also has the means to impact and intrude upon treasured civil liberties.  You have been quoted as stating your belief in the power and potential of technology to provide enormous service to the nation’s security challenges.  Can you describe the balance you want to see used as new technologies emerge and are deployed to serve the Department’s mission while still protecting civil liberties?

Experience with Tribal Governments

•    Often overlooked by the media and general public as a partner to homeland security efforts are tribal governments.   As Arizona is home to several tribal nations, and as someone who has successfully worked with numerous Tribal Government leaders on a range of issues, can you describe the roles and lessons learned from your work with them and how we can better incorporate these partners into our homeland security structures, plans and operations?

Communicating Threats with the Public

•    Following the September 11th and anthrax attacks, the Bush Administration introduced the Homeland Security Advisory System to communicate the nation’s level of threat conditions.  The Advisory System’s color-coded threat levels soon became the crux of jokes and has been criticized as ineffective.  Given your prospective role as Secretary of DHS and responsibilities for communicating threats to the nation, how should this system be replaced and what can be done to better communicate to the public about threats when they arise?

Creating a Culture of Preparedness

•    For more than five years, the Department’s READY Campaign has worked to educate citizens, families, businesses and students about the need and importance of preparing for emergencies in all their forms.  Despite their valiant efforts and partnerships with media groups, private sector members, as well as the painful lessons learned from recent disasters as Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike, citizen and community preparedness remains woefully poor in the US.  What do you think can and should be done to create a culture of preparedness and make our nation and its citizenship more resilient?

Congressional Oversight

•    Your predecessors, the 9/11 Commission and others have long cited the burdens and challenges that excessive Congressional oversight has had on the Department.  Given the expanse that homeland security encompasses and the Constitutional role that Congress plays provide oversight of the executive branch, can you offer us some insight on how the oversight function can be fulfilled without imposing additional burdens to the duties that you and the Department’s leaders must fulfill daily.

What will Keep You Up at Night?

•    Based upon your current understanding of the current threat environment, as well as your discussions with the President-Elect, the members of the transition team, Secretary Chertoff and others who have been talking with you since your nomination, what threat or issue do you think will keep you up at night and why?

Bonus Question:  Why?

•    Governor… Why would you give up a great job, solid approval ratings and proven success to take a position that is undoubtedly one of the toughest in the country (if not world) knowing you will be second-guessed, maligned, mocked and targeted by late-night comedians, Members of Congress and others for actions and events often out of your control (but will be blamed on you) anyway?

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. Read More