Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who is resigning next week, expressed disappointment Tuesday during her farewell remarks that Congress failed to pass a law providing a path to citizenship for many young immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
Her legacy includes managing the Obama administration’s responses to foiled and successful terrorism attacks against the U.S., the Gulf oil-spill disaster, other important changes to immigration policies, a Secret Service scandal and rampant cyber break-ins of U.S. government computers blamed on China and others.
She offered this advice to whoever succeeds her: “You will need a large bottle of Advil.”
Napolitano, the third Homeland Security secretary, will leave Sept. 6 to take over as president of the University of California system. It is unclear when President Barack Obama will name a permanent successor or who that person will be. Rand Beers, the department’s acting No. 2 is expected to become the acting secretary when Napolitano leaves.
With more than 240,000 employees, the Homeland Security Department is among Washington’s most sprawling bureaucracies and includes immigration and intelligence offices, the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency and others. She popularized her catchphrase, “If you see something, say something.”
When she took office in early 2009 after her re-election as Arizona’s governor, Napolitano made immigration reform a top priority and did not mention terrorism during her first appearance on Capitol Hill. But she presided as Homeland Security secretary during violent attacks against the United States, including the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this year, which killed three people. The federal government’s review of its own performance in the attack — including whether it missed any signs before the bombings — is still pending.
An al-Qaida operative attempted to blow up a commercial jetliner over Detroit in December in 2009. In the wake of failed attack Napolitano famously declared that the “system worked,” although the Obama administration immediately ordered an urgent overhaul of its terror-screening systems for travelers.
Napolitano said security improvements after the attempted bombing — and after a disrupted plot in 2010 to detonate bombs hidden inside printer cartridges aboard planes flying to the U.S. — have made the U.S. safer.
“We faced a threat. We responded,” she said. “And we addressed the weaknesses in our systems. And while there is always more work to do, our aviation system is now stronger and more resilient.”