Three secretaries of homeland security address department’s future

Janet Napolitano, Michael Chertoff, Tom Ridge, Thad Allen, Homeland Security
Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff discusses how national security depends on cooperation between the private and public sectors on Tuesday in Jack Morton Auditorium. Cécile Schilis-Gallego | Hatchet photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Jeremy Diamond.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and former secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff convened Tuesday in the Jack Morton Auditorium to discuss national security in a post-9/11 world.

The panel, composed of the only people to ever hold the secretary of homeland security post, was moderated by alumnus and professor Admiral Thad Allen and co-hosted by the University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute.

The relationship between the public and private sector in national security, a field the secretaries agreed is constantly evolving, was a central theme of the discussion.

Addressing the “culture of cooperation” between the public and private sector is a primary challenges, Chertoff said.

“There is not a command and control environment that operates on a vertical basis,” he said. “The question… is often who’s in charge?”

The panel agreed that a strong public-private sector relationship is imperative in homeland security. Congress and the executive branch should examine regulations that inhibit the private sector’s capabilities, Ridge added.

The secretaries lamented the expanse of congressional scrutiny and joked about the failure of congressmen to read Department of Homeland Security reports.

The conversation also delved into the impact of the economic recession on the handling of homeland security during which Ridge addressed the private contractors in attendance.

“You may have to take a haircut,” Ridge said, leaning towards the audience.

Digital threats to national security pose a growing risk, Napolitano said.

“Cyber is perhaps a more challenging environment because it’s so new and we’re still beginning to get our arms around what the definition of the problem is,” she said.

Luke Ventura, a graduate student studying Public Administration, did not anticipate the conversation’s focus on the cyber environment, but noted its political relevance.

“It seems that it’s the area of focus that Republicans and Democrats agree upon,” Ventura said. “The secretaries presented an agency that takes a lot of flack, but is trying to adapt to this evolving environment.

The Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002, in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

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