The Influencers: Janet Napolitano

Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
The Influencers: Janet Napolitano
The Influencers is a continuing series of profiles of the people who shape federal government information security and privacy policy.

Why She's an Influencer

As secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Napolitano heads the cabinet department most responsible for overseeing the safeguard of the government's civilian IT networks and systems, as well as the coordination with the private sector the securing of the nation's critical IT infrastructure. DHS is home of the National Protection and Program Directorate, which through its Office of Cybersecurity and Communications is responsible for enhancing the security, resiliency and reliability of the nation's cyber and communications infrastructure.

DHS also houses the National Cybersecurity Division, charged with collaborating with public, private and international organizations to protect cyberspace; and the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, popularly known as U.S.-CERT, which interacts with federal agencies, industry, the research community, state and local governments and others to disseminate reasoned and actionable cyber security information to the public.

Legislation before Congress, if enacted, would increase DHS's cybersecurity responsibilities, including having it review the IT security budgets of all civilian departments and agencies.

In recent months, Napolitano has been the Obama administration's highest-ranking and most visible advocate of cybersecurity, especially in light of the absence of a cybersecurity coordinator, the senior White House IT security adviser the president promised to name last May.

Her Experience

A savvy politician -- a key criterion in gaining political support for any cybersecurity initiative -- Napolitano served as governor of Arizona from 2003 to 2009, until her nomination as the third secretary of Homeland Security. A Democrat who turns 52 in November, she is a former U.S. attorney and Arizona attorney general, and earned her law degree at the University of Virginia School of Law.

What's Said About Her

In U.S. News & World Report, Alex Kingsbury wrote about Napolitano's initial response to the swine flu outbreak:

"'She was able to step up and focus on the swine flu rather than fight the interagency turf wars that emerge during high-profile events,' says Daniel Kaniewski, who served as President Bush's special assistant for homeland security. Kaniewski added that the adept handling of the outbreak was also helped by a critical presidential directive, issued in late February, that placed DHS in charge of the national incident management system. It was a little-noticed power shift to DHS that is likely to streamline the response to future national crises.'"

In Her Own Words

In remarks this summer at a cybersecurity conference sponsored by the Secret Service, a Homeland Security agency, Napolitano said:

"In terms of cybersecurity, we've been living in a cyber 1.0 world, and we need to be cyber 3.0 and beyond. Because the minute we start talking about a particular methodology of cyber, the cyber bad guys are already moving ahead. This is a very, very rapidly evolving environment in which real crime and real damage can occur."

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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