The Honorable Jeh Johnson has been nominated to replace the long-departed Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Janet Napolitano. Strangely, President Obama has portrayed Johnson as a highly qualified candidate. The President seems to be the only one who is impressed. There are some major holes in Johnson’s resume.
Johnson is a criminal lawyer who served briefly as a Federal prosecutor. Most recently, he was the General Counsel for the Department of Defense (DoD). His biggest claim to fame was his “vision” for how the United States could defeat al Qaeda and “win” the war on terror. His ideas were unique but frankly did not garner much attention or support. Apparently, the President does support these ideas and sees Johnson as the right man to defend the American homeland from terror, and thus, head DHS.
Even if one agreed with the President’s evaluation of the validity of Johnson’s ideas (remember, the President unilaterally announced that we could not stay at war forever, so he just said, “we’re done”), Johnson still comes up a little short in a lot of areas.
DHS may have been formed in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but since then, as one of the biggest of federal organizations, the Department has taken on a heck of a lot more. Two main areas about which any DHS Secretary must be at least conversant are cyber security and disaster relief. As far as anyone can see, Johnson does not have any chops in these areas.
Cyber security has taken on a life of its own since the days of President Bush’s Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, followed by President Obama’s effort of securing cyberspace. The threats have grown more sophisticated and more numerous. The enemies (hackers, organized crime, terrorists, and hostile nations, such as Russia, China, and Iran) have grown bolder. DHS plays a key role in the federal-level response that has grown far more difficult in light of NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden’s revelations and the accompanying backlash. Particularly in the area of public-private cooperation, DHS is the most critical player. Johnson’s lack of credentials here is glaring.
The other big gap is in disaster relief. While he may have picked up a little information and background while at DoD, the General Counsel is not a key player in DoD’s operations supporting domestic agencies. As important as stopping terrorists is, responding to Americans in trouble becomes the priority (as it should) pretty quickly. As we approach the anniversary of Super Storm Sandy, it is wise to give some thought to the less spectacular end of DHS’ business. While terror attacks MAY come, and require a great deal of attention, natural disasters in the homeland WILL come, and the head of the agency must be qualified to lead there as well.
Jeh Johnson may be the right man for the job at DHS, and one hopes he is, as the Senate is normally loath to refuse any President his requested cabinet choices. Short of a “smoking gun of incompetence” popping up, Johnson will probably be confirmed. One hopes he is a very quick learner, as he does have areas in which he is less than spectacularly prepared. Cyber and disaster response are but two of them.