Janet Napolitano Talks Security in GW Speech

The secretary of homeland security told law students that all Americans must assume a shared sense of responsibility in keeping the country safe.

October 13, 2009

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By Jaime Gacek

“We will always live with threats,” Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said in a policy speech at GW Oct. 21. “We can either live with the threats out of fear or we can be prepared. It’s the responsibility of the individual, the community, the state and the federal government to share knowledge so that all layers can take appropriate action.”

Secretary Napolitano, the first woman and the first Democrat to hold the position, laid out the department’s core goals and challenges during a talk sponsored by the GW National Security Law LLM Program and Dickstein Shapiro law firm at GW Law School.

The former governor and attorney general of Arizona is the third secretary of homeland security since the department launched in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She told the crowd of students and faculty members that directing the federal government’s third-largest department and its nearly 225,000 employees “is not unmanageable,” but that she is focused on prioritizing how the department allocates its $50 billion budget in conjunction with four critical mission areas: continuing the fight against terrorism, securing the nation’s borders, enforcing immigration laws and responding to disasters of any kind.

The Department of Homeland Security encompasses a broad range of issues and organizations, including everything from the Secret Service to the Coast Guard to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. One of the nation’s newest threats, the H1N1 virus, is also at the top of the secretary’s public safety priorities.

Since assuming her position in January, Secretary Napolitano says the department has concentrated on increasing the use of science and technology for better scanning and detection of containers entering the nation’s sea and airports. Another main concern is increasing the communication and partnerships between the department’s 22 agencies. “Out of many comes one, and we want one DHS. We’re focused on creating that,” she said. The department, she added, does not yet have a central headquarters, which continues to be a challenge.

After a half-hour talk, Sec. Napolitano answered student questions and gave her perspective on the department’s evolution and its future role.

“I don’t see terrorism, as a fact of life, ever leaving us. I see it changing,” Secretary Napolitano said. “The department began with terrorism as a central theme, and it will continue with terrorism as a central theme.”