A National Conversation on the Homeland Security Environment Looking Forward: The Secretaries’ Perspective


On Tuesday, October 11, 2011, HSPI in cooperation with HSDBC, hosted a Policy and Research Forum featuring the Hon. Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, the Hon. Tom Ridge, former Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Hon. Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security.

The Secretaries engaged in a conversation about the future of homeland security, discussing how the nature of their work has evolved since the creation of the Department, and how to best move forward in this ever-evolving threat environment.

Featured Speakers:

The Hon. Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security

The Hon. Michael Chertoff, Former Secretary of Homeland Security

The Hon. Tom Ridge, Former Secretary of Homeland Security

Introduction By:

Steven Knapp, President, The George Washington University

Steven Knapp became the sixteenth president of The George Washington University in August 2007. His priorities include enhancing the university’s partnerships with neighboring institutions, expanding the scope of its research, strengthening its worldwide community of alumni, enlarging its students’ opportunities for public service, and leading its transformation into a model of urban sustainability.

Moderated By:

Admiral Thad W. Allen, Former Commandant, United States Coast Guard; Distinguished Professor of Practice, The George Washington University Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration

Admiral Thad W. Allen served as 23rd Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard from May 25th, 2006 until May 25th, 2010. Following the change of command, Adm. Allen remained on active duty in the capacity of National Incident Commander for the Unified Command for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Admiral Allen led the Coast Guard's Atlantic Area forces in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Event Summary

On Tuesday, October 11, 2011, the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI), in cooperation with the Homeland Security & Defense Business Council, hosted a Policy and Research Forum featuring the Hon. Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security; the Hon. Michael Chertoff, Former Secretary of Homeland Security; and the Hon. Tom Ridge, Former Secretary of Homeland Security. Admiral Thad W. Allen (Ret.), Former Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, who served under all three Secretaries during his career, moderated the event. The discussion focused on how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has evolved since it was established in 2002, and the challenges it faces as new threats continue to develop. Cybersecurity, violence fueled by Mexican drug cartels, and congressional oversight of DHS were among the issues discussed.

All three Secretaries pointed to cybersecurity as a top challenge. Napolitano called it “probably the most rapidly evolving area” in homeland security. Noting that the public and private sectors are inextricably intertwined in this context, and that “the private sector’s backbone is the government’s backbone,” Ridge said it was a national security “imperative” for the two sectors to work closely and effectively together. To this end, he called on government to make use of “the breadth and depth [of talent] that is available throughout the digital community in the United States.” After referencing the complexity of the cyber domain, including “the whole set of problems” that exist here as well as the differing and “collateral” consequences they may present, Chertoff suggested that “we ought to put together a doctrine and a strategy that is based on a serious policy decision about the optimal way to deal with these challenges.” Such an exercise would entail “some hard choices” and involve tackling tough questions, including “when do we regard an attack as an act of war?”.

Turning to the situation in Mexico, and bearing in mind specifically the activities of the cartels, Napolitano said: “You don’t want the rule of law lost in, particularly the northern states of, Mexico.” Describing homeland security as “a complex field,” she emphasized the importance of “keeping that southern border secure, and at the same time making sure that the ports are open and commerce is flowing freely between Mexico and the United States—why?—because there are literally hundreds of thousands of jobs that depend on it. Striking that balance, getting it right, and working with the government of Mexico, that all has to be done simultaneously.”

Congressional oversight was also the subject of considerable discussion. Against the current backdrop of multiple, fragmented, and overlapping committee jurisdictions, Napolitano observed—with Ridge and Chertoff concurring—that, “what you miss is that kind of overall strategic oversight and guidance that one would want out of the Congress” on homeland security matters. In light of the substantial reporting burdens imposed on DHS by the present system of congressional oversight, Ridge went on to suggest, jokingly, that Congress should face a test when it requires a report—“and if they don’t pass the test, they’re barred from asking for a report for a long time.”

Speaker Biographies

The Hon. Janet Napolitano is the third Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and is leading our nation's collective efforts to secure our country from the threats we face—from terrorism to natural disasters.

To counter the threat of terrorism, Napolitano has forged new partnerships with international allies, and expanded information sharing with federal, state and local law enforcement—building a collaborative effort to detect and disrupt threats early on.

She has initiated a new, more strategic course to strengthen security along our southwest border, deploying additional personnel and advanced technology, while working closely with Mexico to combat violent international drug cartels—resulting in increased seizures of illegal contraband along the border and throughout our country's interior.

Napolitano has strengthened the nation's ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters by cutting through red tape and expediting decision-making along the Gulf Coast, providing new resources to build resilient communities and bolster their response capabilities, and calling on all Americans to play a role in the shared responsibility of making our homeland secure.

In each of these areas—counterterrorism; border security; immigration enforcement; and disaster preparedness, response and recovery—Napolitano is building upon the skills and resources of this young department by deploying the best that science and technology have to offer; reinvigorating partnerships with state, local and tribal governments and the private sector - our nation's first detectors and first responders; and implementing a bold Efficiency Review that is making the Department a leaner, smarter agency better equipped to protect the nation.

Prior to becoming Secretary, Napolitano was in her second term as Governor of Arizona. She was the first woman to chair the National Governors Association and was named one of the top five governors in the country by Time Magazine. She was also the first female Attorney General of Arizona and served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona.

She graduated from Santa Clara University, where she won a Truman Scholarship and was the university's first female valedictorian, and received her Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.

The Hon. Michael Chertoff currently serves as the co-founder and managing principal of the Chertoff Group. The group works to provide high-level strategic counsel to corporate and government leaders on a broad range of security issues, from risk identification and prevention to preparedness, response and recovery.

On February 15, 2005, Chertoff was unanimously confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as the second Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He formerly served as United States Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, after his June 2003 Senate confirmation. Chertoff stepped down as Secretary in January 2009. Chertoff was previously confirmed by the Senate in 2001 to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice. As Assistant Attorney General, he oversaw the investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He also formed the Enron Task Force, which produced more than 20 convictions, including those of CEOs Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay. Before joining the George W. Bush Administration, Chertoff was a Partner in the law firm of Latham & Watkins. From 1995 to 1996, he served as Special Counsel for the U.S. Senate Whitewater Committee.

Prior to that, Chertoff spent more than a decade as a federal prosecutor, including service as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, and Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. As a federal prosecutor, Chertoff investigated and personally prosecuted significant cases of political corruption, organized crime, and corporate fraud. Among them was the “Mafia Commission” case, in which the leaders of La Cosa Nostra were all convicted and sentenced to 100 years in prison for directing the criminal activities of the American Mafia.

Chertoff graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1975 and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1978. From 1979-1980 he served as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, Jr.

The Hon. Tom Ridge currently serves as the president and CEO of Ridge Global which works to help businesses and governments address a range of needs throughout their organizations, including risk management, global trade security, emergency preparedness and response, strategic growth, infrastructure protection, technology integration, crisis management and other issues.

On January 24, 2003, Tom Ridge became the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Ridge worked with more than 180,000 employees from combined agencies to strengthen our borders, provide for intelligence analysis and infrastructure protection, improve the use of science and technology to counter weapons of mass destruction, and to create a comprehensive response and recovery division.
Tom Ridge was sworn in as the first Director of the Office of Homeland Security in October 2001, following the tragic events of September 11. The charge to the nation's new director of homeland defense was to develop and coordinate a comprehensive national strategy to strengthen the United States against terrorist threats or attacks. In the words of President George W. Bush, he had the strength, experience, personal commitment and authority to accomplish this critical mission. Ridge stepped down as Secretary in February 2005.
Ridge was twice elected Governor of Pennsylvania, serving from 1995 to 2001. He kept his promise to make Pennsylvania "a leader among states and a competitor among nations." Governor Ridge's aggressive technology strategy helped fuel the state's advances in the priority areas of economic development, education, health and the environment.

Born Aug. 26, 1945, in Pittsburgh's Steel Valley, Governor Ridge was raised in a working class family in veterans' public housing in Erie. He earned a scholarship to Harvard, graduating with honors in 1967. After his first year at The Dickinson School of Law, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served as an infantry staff sergeant in Vietnam, earning the Bronze Star for Valor. After returning to Pennsylvania, he earned his law degree and was in private practice before becoming assistant district attorney in Erie County. He was elected to Congress in 1982. He was the first Congressman to have served as an enlisted man in the Vietnam War, and was overwhelmingly re-elected five times.


Clark, Charles. (2011) "Despite its progress, Homeland Security remains on GAO risk list." Government Executive.

Government Accountability Office. (2011) "Department of Homeland Security: Progress Made and Work Remaining in Implementing Homeland Security Missions 10 Years after 9/11." Report. Washington, D.C.: GAO.

Homeland Security Newswire. (2011) "Napolitano says Israeli-style security is not suitable for U.S." Washington, DC; News Wire Publications

Napolitano, Janet A. (2010) "Nine Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland." Testimony. Statement to the U.S. Senate, Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Washington, DC; United States Senate.

Painter, William L. and Jennifer E. Lake. (2011) "Homeland Security Department: FY2012 Appropriations." Report. Washington, D.C.: CRS.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2011) "Implementing 9/11 Commission Recommendations--Progess Report 2011." Report.Washington, D.C.: DHS.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2010) "Quadrennial Homeland Security Review Report: A Strategic Framework for a Secure Homeland." Report. Washington, D.C.: DHS.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2005) "Department Six-point Agenda." Washington, D.C.: DHS.

U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. (2010) "Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States." Hearing. Washington, DC; United States Senate

U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence/ U.S. House Select Committee on Intelligence. (2002) "Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001." Report. Washington, D.C.: GPO.

About HSPI's Policy & Research Forum Series

HSPI's Policy & Research Forum Series spotlights cutting-edge security policy solutions and innovative research. The Series is designed to provide thought leaders in the United States and abroad with a uniquely constructive venue in which to discuss current and future security issues and challenges.