Napolitano’s new job

Al Kamen
Columnist July 15, 2013

Is there a more thankless job than secretary of homeland security?

The hours are long, the pressure’s intense, there’s no glamorous travel, and the measure of success is that . . . nothing bad happens.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

But Janet Napolitano may have found an even tougher gig — she announced Friday that she’s leaving the Department of Homeland Security to be president of the University of California system.

Seems Napolitano has a taste for demanding posts. The kind of jobs where, if one thing goes wrong, you’re the one left holding the bag.

Heading the DHS is considered the hardest, least-appreciated Cabinet job. It’s the newest position in that elite club — the department was created in 2002— so there’s a sense that you’re the new kid on the block. (And seating at Cabinet meetings is based on how long the agencies have been around, so you’re practically at the children’s table.)

The job is a management nightmare: The agency was created from dozens of smaller agencies, and it consistently ranks as one of the worst places in the federal government to work.

The portfolio is vast, and the stakes are high. “It’s almost easier to say what you don’t worry about than what you need to be worried about at any given time,” Napolitano said in a 2011 forum marking the department’s eighth birthday.

Rich Cooper, a principal at government relations firm Catalyst Partners, also notes that the plethora of committees with jurisdiction over the department and overzealous congressional oversight add to the headache. “It’s like being nibbled to death by guppies,” he says. “You have 535 members of Congress who think they know how to do the job better.”

Plus, you constantly have to apologize for being the one to make people take off their shoes at airports.

But being the head of the sprawling — and troubled — UC system is surely no cakewalk, either. Ten campuses, nearly 200,000 employees and a shaky financial picture make it the kind of challenge that only someone who seems to relish stress the way Napolitano does would love.

“The size and scope speaks for itself, but what is really challenging there is the diversity,” said John Thornburgh , managing partner of the higher-education practice for executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. “Not just in the students, but in the institutions — you have everything from large research institutes with prestigious scholars to more comprehensive ones that focus on undergraduate teaching.”

Cooper suggests that Napolitano is simply “trading one asylum for another.”

Ambassador-in-waiting

The finishing touches are being applied to the long-anticipated formal announcement that Caroline Kennedy will be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Word is that the administration has formally asked — and Japan is expected to agree — to accept her as the U.S. envoy — a move that comes in the last stages of the lengthy nomination process.

Kennedy’s strong support for President Obama was seen as crucial in his 2008 battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

An official White House announcement, which is likely forthcoming shortly, is expected to thrill the Japanese public, which likes their American ambassadors to be superstars — though older men have been the norm. Kennedy’s predecessors include luminaries such as former Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield, former vice president Walter Mondale, former House speaker Tom Foley and former Senate majority leader Howard Baker. Kennedy, however, lacks their political or foreign policy expertise.

On the other hand, outgoing ambassador John Roos, a Silicon Valley lawyer and major Obama campaign contributor, also had scant experience in Japan but apparently has done quite well. And he, too, arrived at a difficult time — going through the political turmoil of the short-lived government of an all-time Loop Favorite, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama .

If confirmed by the Senate, Kennedy would be taking over at a time when the U.S.-Japan relationship is complicated over the U.S. military presence there and negotiations over Japan’s joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

News of the administration’s request was first reported late Friday by the Nelson Report.

Oil under the bridge?

Nice to know that misbehaving politicians aren’t the only ones afforded second acts.

You might remember Tony Hayward as the BP CEO who initially dismissed the Deepwater Horizon spill as “relatively tiny.” Nothing to see here, people!

He wound up leaving the company after it became clear that millions of gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico — ah, and those 11 people who died in the spill — added up to anything but tiny.

But the road to redemption isn’t just for the likes of Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer: Howard is now racking up accolades. First, he got a new job heading up an Anglo-Turkish oil company, and on Friday, Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland, gave him an honorary degree.

Enviro groups, of course, were horrified to see him receiving the “doctor of technology” accolade.

But disgraced execs the world over were no doubt smiling. Perhaps there’s hope for them all.


With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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