Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security from 2009 until 2013, reflects on the role she played in the government and offers advice for those in charge of the future of the department.
The author, now president of the University of California, was governor of Arizona when she was tapped by Barack Obama to take over the management of the third largest U.S. government agency, with a budget only exceeded by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. She was the third director of a department cobbled together out of 22 different federal agencies in the aftermath of 9/11. While the author takes a few jabs at Donald Trump—notably, for his failure to recognize that our border with Mexico is “not a Tupperware container but rather a living, breathing membrane, a region where family members live and work on both sides”—for the most part she steers clear of partisan politics. Instead, she sticks to a measured, thoughtful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the department and an account of the changes that have been made since its inception. Along the way, she includes a short version of her biography and the challenges she faced in a new position that began with “a mountain of briefing documents” topped with “a half-inch-thick single-spaced glossary of government acronyms.” Among the successes of the department, Napolitano counts, perhaps to some readers' surprise, the effectiveness of the Transportation Security Administration. Among its shortcomings, she emphasizes the difficulty an often unwieldy bureaucracy faces when trying to recognize new threats, particularly those based on new technology. “It is impossible to overstate the urgency of improving our country's cybersecurity,” she writes. “After climate change, there is no greater threat to the homeland.”
A cleareyed, rational examination of a government office that plays a key and often misunderstood role in the lives of all Americans.