(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Former Department of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano began work this week as head of the University of California system. But far away from her new ivory tower post, back at her old office in Washington, there’s an increasingly urgent “Help Wanted” sign hanging.

Eyebrows are going up around town with no word that a candidate to replace Napolitano as secretary of Homeland Security is immediately forthcoming. Talk is that the White House got turned down by its top two picks to fill the job.

(Could be that’s because, as we’ve pointed out, the job of DHS Secretary is one of the hardest and yet least appreciated Cabinet gigs? Or maybe they didn’t ask nicely.)

Seems it’s a tough challenge to find the right candidate. Those tracking the search say the White House would love to fill the job with a minority or a woman. Making the pool even smaller, the conventional wisdom is that anyone who would take the job wouldn’t have political aspirations. “It’s a high-risk job,” said one observer. “If something happens on your watch, you’re done.”

Napolitano’s isn’t the only empty chair, though. With Rand Beers as the acting secretary, Rafael Borras has become acting deputy secretary — that’s two nonconfirmed officials at the top.

Compounding the vacancies is the trouble that Alejandro Mayorkas, the White House’s pick to be deputy homeland security chief, has run into on Capitol Hill. His nomination appears to be stalled, with senators concerned about an IG investigation into Mayorkas’s actions as commissioner of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

A move this week to help move the needle came in the form of a letter by a bipartisan group of former security officials praising Mayorkas. “Director Mayorkas’ strong leadership, extensive experience, and strong commitment to law enforcement and national security clearly demonstrate that he has the skills to effectively lead the Department of Homeland Security,” they wrote.

Signing the letter were Jayson Ahern, former acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection; Robert Bonner, former commissioner of Customs and Border Protection under President George W. Bush; Anthony Chapa, retired assistant Secret Service director; John Hensley, former assistant commissioner for enforcement and investigations at the Customs Service; Ronald Iden, former assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office; and Kenneth Wainstein, former assistant to Bush for homeland security and counterterrorism.

It’s unclear whether their praise of his national security credentials will impress the Hill — or when the remaining empty posts will be filled.