WASHINGTON - The leadership vacancy created by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's resignation is the latest and greatest blow to a department where one-third of the heads of key agencies and divisions have been filled with acting officials or remained vacant for months.
Napolitano's departure, slated for September, will create the 15th hole in the department's 45 leadership positions. Napolitano's chief of staff and the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement are leaving this month. The deputy secretary, general counsel, heads of Customs and Border Protection, privacy, legislative affairs, intelligence and analysis and more are filled with acting officials. Other key positions, like the executive secretariat, inspector general and deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity remain vacant.
The pattern of putting acting officials in leadership positions at the Homeland Security Department- sometimes replacing acting officials with other acting officials - has been going on for months. This swath of vacancies raises questions about how a department depleted of permanent leadership could implement changes, particularly as Congress considers overhauling the nation's immigration system.
"Her departure is a substantial addition to the growing list of unfilled key leadership positions within the department," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said of Napolitano's resignation. "The administration should move swiftly to fill the gaping holes in its management."
The White House referred a request for comment to the Homeland Security Department, which did not respond.
The Homeland Security Department consists of agencies that protect the president, respond to disasters, enforce immigration laws and secure air travel. Many of the unfilled leadership positions don't require Senate confirmation.
On Friday, Napolitano announced she would be leaving her post in early September to become the president of the University of California system. It was not immediately clear who the president wants to replace her. The acting deputy secretary at the department is poised to take over as acting secretary unless the Senate confirms the president's nominee for Homeland Security deputy secretary before Napolitano leaves. If that happens, the new deputy secretary would assume the role of acting secretary until the president names a replacement.
"Sometimes, when major changes occur, there is a tendency to focus on the uncertainty of the future, perhaps at the expense of the urgency of the now," the assistant secretary of policy at the Homeland Security Department, David Heyman, said Friday in an email to his staff after Napolitano's announcement. "This department has seamlessly and professionally negotiated a number of similar changes in the past."