By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 10, 2009
On the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, here's what keeps the secretary of homeland security up at night:
"Complacency," Janet Napolitano says without missing a beat. "The fact that it has been eight years since 9/11, and people just assume the government is going to take care of that. . . . Safety, security is a shared responsibility. It doesn't take much for everybody just to take a deep breath and say, 'Okay, what would I need to do to be prepared?' "
Emergency preparedness is just a sliver of Napolitano's vast portfolio, which covers issues from counterterrorism to swine flu to cybersecurity. The former Arizona governor oversees a relatively new agency that is still ironing out some kinks, and she must also face more than 100 congressional committees that oversee various parts of her operation.
She's also the administration's point person on immigration, a highly charged issue that has made her a lightning rod for advocacy groups who see the Obama White House as dragging its feet on comprehensive reform.
At her department's sprawling campus, Napolitano cautiously shared her thinking on a number of hot-button issues.
Romano: If the American people could see what you see -- if they were privy to intelligence reports and they saw the whole spectrum of what was out there, do you think they would have a different view of preparedness?
Napolitano: Oh, yes, perhaps. But on the other hand, I think what is important for them to recognize is that we have hundreds of thousands of people working on this every day.
Romano: You are now in the middle of a quadrennial Homeland Security Review. What is it going to tell you?
Napolitano: It will probably show that, for a young department, we have come a long way, but we have a ways to go. We have a ways to go in terms of information-sharing, partnerships with state and local law enforcement. I think we have some things that we can do better in terms of explaining to the American people why some things are the way they are . . . particularly in the travel environment.
Romano: A recent Government Accountability Office report showed that individuals could get into some federal buildings carrying bomb-making materials. What was your reaction?
Napolitano: I was appalled. I immediately put together a team led by one of my senior advisers to . . . give me a short-, medium- and long-term plan on how we fix this, and we are well into that right now.
Romano: Advocacy groups are a little angry with you that immigration reform hasn't been taken up yet and that you're not including it as part of your message when you go out and talk about issues. Why?
Napolitano: Well, I think I have been, but not loudly enough. So let me say where I'm at on this. We are enforcing the immigration law. At the same time, however, make no mistake that we are spending a lot of time working with the Congress on what an updated law would look like. . . . I also think the American people want to have some assurance that if we -- if there is any law that is passed, that it will be enforced moving forward; in other words, that we won't be in this same situation 20 years from now.