Napolitano, who intends to leave government service in September to run the University of California system, is the longest-serving secretary in the agency's 11-year history. With four years under her belt, the 55-year-old former Arizona governor is pushing the agency toward such long-term goals as instilling a whole-community approach to disaster management, prioritizing enforcement operations, and developing large-scale cyber capabilities. The department will also help implement immigration-reform legislation if it passes Congress. DHS already administers the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—reducing prosecution of children who entered the country illegally—which Napolitano calls a "great pilot project" to help the department prepare for overhauling the entire system.
Her job has always been a balance between long-term goals and short-term crises, and Napolitano has had plenty to manage. Most recent was the Boston Marathon bombings, the first major successful domestic terrorist attack during Obama's administration. "Our investments in training and exercising at the local level really paid off," she says of the response. Napolitano also cites the federal mobilization in the wake of Hurricane Sandy as an example of how the department's disaster response has evolved under her tenure. "I just don't think we would have been capable of managing [that] when I began four years ago," she says. Napolitano has done all that without using e-mail, the exclusion of which is her way of managing both her time and information flow (although she's not gadget-averse; she likes her iPad mini for personal use).
Before coming to DHS, Napolitano spent much of her life in the West. She grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., and after attending college at Santa Clara University in California and law school at the University of Virginia, she worked in private practice at a Phoenix law firm for 10 years. Then, she won a race for attorney general and two elections for Arizona governor before being tapped by Obama to come to Washington. "I miss that sense of space and sky," Napolitano says of Arizona. "On the other hand, D.C. is a fascinating place." She loves the local theater scene—and the president's box at the Kennedy Center, which has allowed her to see almost every opera that's played in town.
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