Sometimes the right person for a job doesnt get offered it the first time. Thats the case with President Bushs nomination of Michael Chertoff to head the Department of Homeland Security. Chertoff was the right person for the job from the start.
Few jobs can prepare you to run a mammoth, still-forming department of 180,000 employees and 22 divisions, but Chertoffs experience running the Department of Justices Criminal Division from 2001 to 2003 prepared him to deal with a large bureaucracy.
Few jobs can prepare you to deal with the politics of fighting a war on terror in a polarized political environment, but Chertoffs tenure as chief counsel for the Senates Whitewater investigation prepared him to deal with the blood-sport politics hell face.
And Chertoff is no stranger to taking on tough cases. As a federal prosecutor in New Jersey, he prosecuted Jersey Citys mayor and investigated racial profiling by police.
After the bizarre rise and fall of Bernard Kerik as would-be DHS chief, the prospect of Chertoff taking the reins of the department is a welcome relief. The job of protecting our nation from terrorism is difficult enough without the handicap of eroded credibility due to personal peccadilloes.
Michael Chertoff has integrity. I learned this firsthand when I was a reporter covering the Whitewater probe. It was a politically charged investigation, taking place on the eve of President Clintons re-election. Chertoff was in charge of an investigation that Republicans prayed would kill Clintons magic. Many senators liberally leaked information to hurt Clinton.
Chertoff, who was certainly no Clinton partisan, was the keeper of the information but never leaked it—not even when directed to by a senator. I know because I was there when a senator instructed him to give me confidential information, and Chertoff refused.
Chertoff understands the importance of cyber-security for protecting our critical infrastructure and national assets. While serving as head of the DOJs criminal division, he toured Silicon Valley and saw the importance of this infrastructure to the nations economy. Chertoff will have many priorities, but its a safe bet he wont lose sight of cyber-security.
Chertoff didnt have to take the job. He was appointed by Bush to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003, and a long judicial career awaited him—perhaps even a shot at becoming a Supreme Court justice. He has proved he can win approval by the Senate, which has confirmed him four times for jobs. Chertoff has never failed to answer a call, and the nation should be grateful that, once again, he has answered.
Thomas Galvin is a partner at 463 Communications LLC. He was formerly a reporter for several publications, including the New York Post and the National Journal, and was vice president of government relations at VeriSign. Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community and welcomes contributions. Send submissions to [email protected].