Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Resigning to Head UC System

The former Arizona governor, just the third person to lead the Homeland Security Department, is expected to step down in about six weeks

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Friday, Aug 23, 2013  |  Updated 11:30 AM CDT
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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will resign from her post to head the University of California system in the fall after four years of facing what President Barack Obama described as "some of the toughest challenges facing our country."

Napolitano released a statement Friday morning in which she announced the decision. She thanked President Obama and the Homeland Security Department, which Napolitano has led since the beginning of the Obama administration.

She was just the third person to hold the post, leading an agency of 240,000 employees.

"After four plus years of focusing on these challenges," said Napolitano. "I will be nominated as the next President of the University of California to play a role in educating our nation's next generation of leaders."

She called the past "four-plus years" serving as DHS chief "the highlight of my professional career." The statement did not provide details regarding a possible replacement, but Napolitano said "appropriate transition planning is underway."

The 234,000-student University of California system includes 10 campuses, three national laboratories, five medical centers and a state agriculture and natural resources program. The nomination must be approved by the 26-member UC Board of Regents, in charge of appointments to senior positions in the UC system.

The tenure of current UC president Mark Yudoff will end in August. A search committee appointed to replace Yudoff nominated Napolitano, who would become the first woman to head the 10-campus system in its 145-year history. She is expected to depart DHS in about six weeks when the UC campsus system begins its fall semester.

President Obama also issued a statement Friday morning, thanking Napolitano, 55, for facing some of the nation's "toughest challenges" as leader of the agency tasked with preventing terrorist attacks.

"I want to thank Secretary Napolitano for her outstanding work on behalf of the American people over the last four years," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "At the Department of Homeland Security, Janet’s portfolio has included some of the toughest challenges facing our country."

Napolitano served as governor of Arizona before accepting the Homeland Security position four years ago. She was the first woman to chair the National Governors Association.

"The opportunity to work with the dedicated men and women of the Department of Homeland Security, who serve on the front lines of our nation's efforts to protect our communities and families from harm, has been the highlight of my professional career,'' her statement continued.

Most of Napolitano's job experience involves politics and law. The UC position would be her first experience in academia. She would take over an instituation at odds with state lawmakers over several issues, including administrators' compensation and funding.

Napolitano attended Santa Clara University. Located located south of San Francisco, the private school is not part of the University of California system.

"Throughout her noteworthy career, Secretary Napolitano has built a  track record for taking on and tackling the toughest of challenges," Board of  Regents Vice Chair Bruce Varner said. "She has a reputation for seeing things  through, no matter how difficult the effort. I anticipate learning much from  Secretary Napolitano, given her experience leading large, complex  organizations."

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