Immigration Nominee's Credentials Questioned

Julie Myers has held a variety of jobs at the White House and in federal government.
Julie Myers has held a variety of jobs at the White House and in federal government. (By Jeff Mitchell -- Reuters)
By Dan Eggen and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Bush administration is seeking to appoint a lawyer with little immigration or customs experience to head the troubled law enforcement agency that handles those issues, prompting sharp criticism from some employee groups, immigration advocates and homeland security experts.

The push to appoint Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, comes in the midst of intense debate over the qualifications of department political appointees involved in the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina.

Concerns over Myers, 36, were acute enough at a Senate hearing last week that lawmakers asked the nominee to detail during her testimony her postings and to account for her management experience. Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) went so far as to tell Myers that her résumé indicates she is not qualified for the job.

But Voinovich has since met with Myers and is now likely to support her, his spokeswoman said yesterday. Myers, who has attracted strong support from many former colleagues, told senators that she would draw upon the experiences of ICE veterans in running the agency.

"I realize that I'm not 80 years old," Myers testified. "I have a few gray hairs, more coming, but I will seek to work with those who are knowledgeable in this area, who know more than I do."

After working as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, N.Y., for two years, Myers held a variety of jobs over the past four years at the White House and at the departments of Commerce, Justice and Treasury, though none involved managing a large bureaucracy. Myers worked briefly as chief of staff to Michael Chertoff when he led the Justice Department's criminal division before he became Homeland Security secretary.

Myers also was an associate under independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr for about 16 months and has most recently served as a special assistant to President Bush handling personnel issues.

Her uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She married Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood, on Saturday.

In written answers to questions from Congress, Myers highlighted her year-long job as assistant secretary for export enforcement at Commerce, where she said she supervised 170 employees and a $25 million budget. ICE has more than 20,000 employees and a budget of approximately $4 billion. Its personnel investigate immigrant, drug and weapon smuggling, and illegal exports, among other responsibilities.

Myers was on her honeymoon and was not available to comment yesterday. Erin Healy, a White House spokeswoman, cited Myers's work with customs agents on money-laundering and drug-smuggling cases. "She's well-known and respected throughout the law enforcement community," Healy said. "She has a proven track record as an effective manager."

ICE was created from remnants of the former immigration and customs services. It is widely viewed as one of the most troubled parts of the sprawling Department of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security political appointees have come under scrutiny since Michael D. Brown resigned under fire this month as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which he joined with no experience in disaster preparedness. Several other senior FEMA officials were Bush supporters who did not have crisis-management credentials.

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