On Jan. 20, 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will experience its first presidential transition. Having recently celebrated its fifth anniversary in March, the Department has operated only under the Bush administration.
Last year, Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee prepared a report charging that, "One of the continuing problems [of DHS] appears to be the over politicization of the top rank of Department management." The authors warned that, "This could lead to heightened vulnerability to terrorist attack." Although denying the politicization charge, Paul A. Schneider, Acting DHS deputy secretary, concurred that "major terrorist attacks, both here and abroad, are often launched shortly before or after national elections or inaugurations."
To help reduce this vulnerability, DHS leaders have prudently designated a cadre of senior career civil servants who will run its key agencies -- such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- until the incoming administration is able to secure Senate approval of its own agency heads. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff told a group of bloggers earlier this month that "we have populated the major parts of the department now, almost all of them . . . with career people, senior career people in the number two or number three positions so that when the political appointees leave there will be people in place to continue the continuity."