President Barack Obama announced on Friday that defense attorney Jeh Johnson, who is currently employed as a law partner at the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP, will be nominated to the now vacant position of Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He is replacing Janet Napolitano, who held the position from 2009 until September of this year. This is the second nomination by President Obama in as many weeks, as Janet Yellen was announced to be the new head of the Federal Reserve, replacing the current head Ben Shalom Bernanke. This flurry of activity comes after the end of the sixteen-day-long government shutdown, which brought most state business, including the replacement of several high-level officials, to a painful halt.
While Jen Johnson is now working in the private sphere, he has had a long history of public service within the government and has been an active adviser of, and fundraiser for, President Obama since his first presidential run in 2006. Johnson had also previously served as a general counsel to the United States Air Force under President Bill Clinton, and held a similar position in the Department of Defense under President Obama. During his tenure in the Department of Defense he liaised with the Department of Homeland Security during times of national disaster, particularly after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and after the explosion of the BP oil rig in the Gulf. In fact, Johnson has only been in the private sector for a brief period, joining the aforementioned law firm in January after leaving the Department of Defense. Many have described Johnson as one of the leading members of President Obama’s team of national security advisers, which is likely the reason for his seemingly quick return to civil service.
However, Johnson’s long service has not been without controversy. Perhaps one of his most well known achievements in the Department of Defense was his membership in the military commission that eventually brought down the policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in 2010. Johnson has also supported the collection of phone data by the National Security Agency, a practice that he has stated to be supported by law. His position considering the use of drones is less sure, as he has supported the usage of unmanned aircraft in the past but has been recently calling for greater public transparency of the policy and its application.
Johnson still needs to be confirmed by the Senate if he is to replace former Secretary Janet Napolitano. The senate committee on Homeland Security is headed by majority leader Senator Thomas Carper (Democrat, Delaware) and minority leader Tom Coburn (Republican, Oklahoma). If Johnson is confirmed as the new Secretary he will be the fourth person to hold that position since President Bush founded the department in 2002. The acting Secretary is Rand Beers.