AZ Governor Janet Napolitano brought her A Game to her confirmation hearing today.

She didn’t need it.  Her command of the issues and her previous experiences came through so easily and clearly in all of her responses during the two hours and 20 minute hearing that I don’t think she broke a sweat.

While I am not a big basketball aficionado, it was obvious she kept putting up 3 pointers from the moment she arrived.  Nuthin’ but net…  Swoosh!

All of the Senators had positive things to say about her in their opening statements and during the Q&A period, but if anything set the tone for the hearing, it was the opening minutes.

Arizona’s two Senators, John Kyl and John McCain, both Republicans, introduced the Governor to their Senate colleagues.  Seeing both of these men, one the defeated Presidential candidate of this past November’s election, offer their insights and experiences about her spoke volumes about the integrity they have as individuals and their respect for the nominee.  Sen. McCaskill offered comments to the effect that their comment showed our political system worked.  That it did.

But what did we learn from today’s hearing?

•    The perspective of the states (and a sympathetic ear to that perspective) will be in residence at DHS with her at the helm.  From information sharing, border issues, response and recovery, partnerships with local law enforcement, REAL ID and more, US Governors will have her ears and attention.

•    Cyber security is on her radar screen – big time.  The Governor mentioned it several times in her opening statement and reinforced its importance in her responses.

•    The Interoperability issue has not gone away and the Senators and Governor were not comfortable with where we are on this matter, more than sevenyears after 9/11.  In her response to one of the questions, the Governor stated that she wanted to make sure the right people were talking with one another and working this issue.  She also felt that DHS should be taking more of a leadership position on this issue.

•    The Northern Border would also be getting more attention from her.  She promised to not only visit the Northern Border, but to also become as familiar with it as she is with the Southern Border that she has lived with for so many years.  She also pledged to see a Northern Border strategy put forward that engaged those states, as well as the commerce and public safety/law enforcement interests that are part of these areas.

•    While there was no direct question about FEMA staying in or out of the DHS, I think its safe to say that its not going anywhere.  Her response to Sen. Landrieu’s question about improving the speed of Federal response during emergencies I think put the issue to rest.  The quote I have her saying is, “FEMA plays a key role in homeland security.”  Her opening statement and other responses also talked about ‘mission integration,’ the Department’s units working together, etc.’  When questioned about further reorganization of DHS by Sen. Carper she responded, I want to take the existing organization and make it all work better.”

•    She also raised the issue of DHS employee morale and her pledges to implement efforts to recruit, retain and reward DHS employees for their service should be greeted by the 200,000+ employees as a positive.

•    Governor Napolitano also shared that in addition to the recent exercise that the Bush White House hosted earlier this week with senior members of the Obama Administration to orientate them to the people, programs and processes that aid national response, she shared that the Obama Team has been doing some exercising (tabletops) of their own.  Her message in delivering this ‘news’ – the Obama Team will be ready on Day One.

•    A Transportation Security Strategy will also be on her radar, and she is going to specifically look to work with the private sector in shaping and executing it.

•    Sen. McCaskill proved once again she can open a line of questioning that leave her colleagues speechless.  In addition to her revelation that TSA has been leading the  confiscation of mascara in this country (and that she has a bum knee and does not enjoy or advocate for the return of TSA Screener ‘pat downs’), she has issues with what she believes is continued ad hoc screening of passengers and the Bush Administration’s turning a blind eye to businesses who employ illegal immigrants.

•    REAL ID is going to get a REAL LOOKOVER when she takes office.  From her response to Sen. Akaka’s questions, she shared her concerns over the costs of implementing the program and how it should be carried out.  In watching her address this issue, it was obvious that she was speaking for the nation’s governors on this program.  There’s no doubt she will work to fix what she can, and I don’t think she’ll be shy in coming back to Congress with a list of fixes (and resource ($$$$) requests) for it if she deems that necessary.

•    Tribal issues, particularly those that involve our Northern Border, will also get some additional attention from her as well.  Respect for sovereignty and cooperation were her pledges.

•    The biggest surprise I had in observing the hearing was Sen. Voinovich’s call for enactment of the last 9/11 Commission recommendation to improve Congressional oversight of DHS.  Usually, it’s Senators who take witnesses to the woodshed for a whuppin but he decried the demand, distraction and difficulties his Congressional colleagues have put on DHS by  having 88 Committees exert jurisdiction over the Department. Even more surprising than his comments were Sen. Lieberman’s encouraging Gov. Napolitano to set a rule that she should only testify at the full committee level.  WOW!

All in all, she did a great job. No gaffes or goofs to speak of.  She performed like Michael Jordan in the playoffs. She was focused, put herself in the right position and she shot with confidence.  The end result – she scored.  Nuthin’ but net…

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