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Thomas C.
Democrat DE

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  • Johnson Nomination

    by Senator Thomas R. Carper

    Posted on 2013-12-16

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    CARPER. I am proud to rise to speak in strong support of the nomination of Jeh Johnson to serve as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. As my colleagues know, I have been concerned for many months about the high number of senior-level vacancies that exist at the Department. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security has been without a Senate-confirmed Deputy Secretary since April and without a Senate-confirmed Secretary since early September. That is simply too long for such critical positions to be vacant, especially since the Department of Homeland Security has been without Senate- confirmed leadership in a number of other senior leadership positions too.

    That list of vacancies includes the position of Deputy Secretary, as well as the heads of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Inspector General.

    Working with the President, we need to do something about it. Today we can. It is my hope and expectation that we will vote to confirm a new Secretary to lead the Department within the next few hours, allowing Jeh Johnson to be sworn in and start work later this week.

    Getting a Secretary of Homeland Security quickly confirmed is essential to help effectively run this Department and protect the safety of our citizens. This Department is a large and complex entity with a diverse set of missions and challenges.

    It is composed of 22 distinct agencies spread across various locations throughout the country. In the 10 years after its creation, the Department of Homeland Security still lacks a strong sense of cohesion.

    Moreover, given the Nation's fiscal challenges, the Department, as many Federal agencies, is being asked to do more and get even better results with fewer Federal dollars.

    That being said, over its 10 years, the Department has celebrated a number of important milestones. In fact, only last week, for the first time ever, the Department of Homeland Security received a clean financial audit.

    There is one outlier among the major departments of our government that hasn't received that clean financial audit, and that is the Department of Defense, which has been around for approximately 70 years.

    The Department of Homeland Security took 10 years and has been on the GAO high-risk list for all of those 10 years. I was delighted when I received word last week that this goal had been achieved. It is a major accomplishment and one for which I heartily congratulate the Department.

    There is an old saying that goes something such as this: You can't manage what you can't measure.

    Now the Department of Homeland Security achieved a clean financial audit. It is my hope that its financial management practices will continue to improve. In order to build upon this and other successes, I believe the Department needs Senate-confirmed leadership.

    [[Page S8825]] There is no doubt that even on a good day, serving as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is a very hard job. Jeh Johnson, however, is no doubt up to this enormous task. Again, I strongly support his nomination.

    Mr. Johnson is a seasoned national security expert who is eminently qualified to take the reins to run the challenging Department of Homeland Security. After graduating from Morehouse College and then Columbia Law School, Jeh Johnson started his career in private practice. Later he became an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he prosecuted public corruption cases. He then returned to the private sector where he became a partner with the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

    While working with this law firm, Mr. Johnson again answered the call to public service, first as the Air Force's top lawyer during the second term of the Clinton administration and, more recently, in the first term of the Obama administration, as the top lawyer for the entire Department of Defense. In both positions he was confirmed by the Senate with strong bipartisan support.

    Having served in such important positions at the Department of Defense has no doubt helped him develop a number of outstanding skills that will enable him to lead this Department effectively.

    There are few better places to learn how to manage a complex national security bureaucracy than at the Department of Defense. For example, for 4 years he was a partner and a part of the senior leadership team that ran the Defense Department. He played a critical role in overseeing more than 3 million military and civilian personnel scattered around the country and across the world, including having direct responsibility for nearly 10,000 attorneys.

    He provided key advice to two exceptional Defense Secretaries--Bob Gates and Leon Panetta--and was an important member of their management teams. To me, this is an invaluable experience for the huge task to which he has been nominated.

    He also participated in almost every discussion of consequence for the Department, helping to shape the policies that directly impacted the lives of our brave men and women in uniform and their families.

    In fact, during his time at the Pentagon, Mr. Johnson developed a reputation for tackling some of the toughest issues in the Department of Defense and finding a way to build consensus and develop thoughtful and effective policy. For example, he won praise from both sides of the aisle for his work on the issue of don't ask, don't tell and on the military commission system.

    Additionally, Mr. Johnson was an influential member of the President's national security team and helped design and implement many of the country's policies to fight terrorism and dismantle the core of Al Qaeda. Because of his experience in these positions and in other commanding roles, Mr. Johnson is well prepared to face the challenges that will await him if he is confirmed by the Senate today.

    People don't have to take my word for it. Mr. Johnson has received high praise from many distinguished former government officials from both sides of the aisle.

    In a letter to our Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, for example, every single former Secretary of that Department--Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff, and Janet Napolitano--lauded Mr. Johnson as an ``eminently qualified nominee.'' They went on further to state, and I paraphrase: Jeh Johnson's service at the highest levels of the Department of Defense--the largest government agency in the world--provided him a keen understanding of how to successfully execute large-scale operational missions of varying complexity and purpose.

    This is what former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, a highly regarded and much-admired manager himself, said about Jeh Johnson and his time at the Department of Defense: Take my word for it: [Jeh Johnson] has successfully managed an array of major initiatives across the biggest bureaucracy in the government--and, in so doing, won the esteem of virtually everyone with whom he worked.

    Similarly, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this about Jeh Johnson: Jeh has proven himself to be a talented, capable, bipartisan, and trusted public servant. I give my strongest recommendation and full support to his confirmation as the Nation's next Secretary of Homeland Security.

    Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who stepped down in late 2011, has also expressed his deep confidence in the nominee, stating: Jeh Johnson is as fine a person and professional as I have ever met.

    I wish to state that again. Admiral Mike Mullen states: Jeh Johnson is as fine a person and professional as I have ever met. I am confident in his choice and that he will succeed in leading this most complex organization at a critical time in our country.

    Mr. Johnson has also received encouraging words and praise from a number of law enforcement groups, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the national Fraternal Order of Police.

    I would also add that at Mr. Johnson's confirmation hearing, our ranking member, Dr. Coburn, made known his support for Jeh Johnson and even went so far as to ask him to consider staying on as Secretary after the 2016 election, a high compliment indeed. I might add as an aside, Mr. Johnson's wife was sitting immediately behind him, and when Dr. Coburn asked for that assurance from the nominee, I wasn't sure if she was going to come out of her seat--and it wasn't in support of the idea.

    Mr. Johnson is undoubtedly a highly skilled leader. He is just the type of person that we need for this extremely important and challenging position.

    Mr. Johnson, of course, will not be alone in the task of leading the Department of Homeland Security. It is critically important that Mr. Johnson be allowed to surround himself with a capable leadership team. We can help. Indeed, we must help.

    At the Department of Homeland Security alone, there are 14 Presidentially appointed positions that are without a permanent replacement. Of these, 10 require Senate confirmation. This is an edition of what I call executive branch Swiss cheese.

    As we consider Mr. Johnson's nomination, we must remember that protecting the homeland is a team sport, and those of us in the legislative branch are critical members of this important team. If Mr. Johnson is confirmed, we must do our part to expeditiously, but thoroughly, vet and confirm his leadership team as well.

    We need to put aside our partisan differences, work together, and give the President and the Department the entire team it needs to better protect our homeland. That includes confirming Ali Mayorkas for Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.

    Today the question before us is Mr. Johnson's nomination. For my colleagues still on the fence about Mr. Johnson's nomination, I leave us with a few thoughts on his character and his integrity. I have gotten to know Jeh Johnson very well over the last couple of months. I have been impressed by his forthrightness, his thoughtfulness, his core values, and his impeccable moral character, as well as his deep commitment to public service and serving our Nation. He treasures his family, and he strives to honor the legacy through his work.

    I had the privilege of meeting several members of his family at the confirmation hearing last month. His wife is an accomplished professional in her own right. In fact, Jeh met his wife when she was practicing dentistry--and I think he might have been the patient.

    Together they are the proud parents of two young adults that any parent would be proud to call their own. He is also a devoted son and brother. Although they could not attend his confirmation hearing, I know his parents are deeply proud of the son that they raised.

    I noticed in his confirmation hearing that Jeh proudly wore a pin that was his grandfather's. His great grandfather worked as a Pullman train car porter in the early 20th century. I think that quiet statement says a lot about the importance of family to Jeh and how the values and character his family instilled in him are always with him.

    [[Page S8826]] It is clear he is a student of history and draws inspiration from the civil rights movement. One of Jeh Johnson's guiding principles is a lesson he learned from Dr. Benjamin ``Bennie'' Mays, the former president of Morehouse College and a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, ``You earn a living by what you get; you earn a life by what you give.'' Think about that for a second. ``You earn a living by what you get; you earn a life by what you give.'' Think about that and think about all the times Jeh Johnson has left the comforts of the private sector--three times before--so that he could give back and serve the people of our country as a leader in our government. With that in mind, I think we know what kind of leader we are getting in Jeh Johnson and what he will bring to the Department of Homeland Security.

    I urge my colleagues to join me in voting today for Jeh Johnson.

    I thank the Chair, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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