Well, well, well. Janet Napolitano is quitting and heading west.
She leaves behind the most mammoth government bureaucracy created in modern times.
And she is likely to go down in history as someone who tried hard, but ultimately failed, to make a success of unifying it.
A truly daunting task it is, trying to mold the unwieldy Department of Homeland Security into a cohesive, workable body.
Born in divisiveness, chaos and fear after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the agency has had many naysayers who said it would prove impossible to unify 22 agencies whose employees have long been suspicious of the others, sometimes actively competing and working against each other.
The new Cabinet-level department, signed into law in 2002 by President George W. Bush, was tasked with preventing more terrorism on U.S. soil, overseeing natural disasters — of which there have been dozens, ranging from killer hurricanes to murderous tornadoes —securing the nation's borders and keeping airplanes from being used as weapons.
Almost 250,000 people toil at DHS, from border patrol agents to customs agents to Transportation Security Administration personnel to immigration officers. With an annual budget of $60 billion, it is the third largest Cabinet department.
Consistently, DHS is at the bottom of the list of Best Places to Work in the Federal Government, hardly a testament to its leader. If you know anybody who works for DHS, you know morale is terrible.
DHS employees were warned in an internal memo recently that any one of them opening a Washington Post article on the Internet containing a classified slide showing how the National Security Agency eavesdrops on international communications was subject to being penalized. Say what?
On the other hand, Michael Chertoff, the second DHS secretary, from 2005 to 2009, was a co-author of the Patriot Act, which gave government huge, unprecedented power over the civil liberties of American citizens.
A Democrat, a lawyer and a former governor of Arizona, Napolitano, who is 55 and single, remains scandal-free. The most shocking thing about her may be her antipathy toward email, which she refuses to use. She also doesn't text or tweet.
You may not even know who she is, unless you shop at Wal-Mart and have seen a video of her admonishing shoppers, "If you see something, say something."
Napolitano leaves to become president of the University of California's 10-school system, with a budget of $23 billion. As for her tenure at DHS, she issued this statement: "The opportunity to work with the dedicated men and women of the Department of Homeland Security, who serve on the frontlines of our nation's efforts to protect our communities and families from harm, has been the highlight of my professional career."
Hardly a declaration of great accomplishments.
Napolitano did suggest that it might be necessary to expand the use of drones from borders to the interior of the country. So far, thankfully, nothing has come of that, at least that we know about. But she has begun plans to put "nonlethal weapons" on drones operated by Customs and Border Protection to be used against "targets of interest," including undocumented immigrants.
During Napolitano's tenure, the DHS has begun implementing plans to stockpile 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition, far more per officer than the U.S. Army's allotments for its soldiers.
Angered at the DHS's refusal to explain what it intends to do with that amount of ammunition, which includes devastatingly destructive hollow-point bullets, Republicans in the House last month pushed through a measure to halt the stockpiling. The Senate has not acted.
The departure of Napolitano, the fourth person to head DHS, offers an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of this federal behemoth, but that probably won't happen.
Republicans are in no mood to tether it; Democrats, facing possible loss of Senate control in 2014, don't have the stomach for a serious probe.
Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email email@example.com.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)
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