C. Suzanne Mencer
- February 15, 2004
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uzanne Mencer has spent much of her career focused on investigating and fighting terrorism. Now, in her role as director of the Homeland Security Department's Office of Domestic Preparedness, she works to ensure that states and localities will be as ready as possible to face another terrorist attack.
Mencer spent more than 20 years as an FBI agent, much of it doing foreign intelligence and undercover work. In 2000, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens appointed her executive director of the state's Department of Public Safety, and in October 2003, she was confirmed as head of the Office of Domestic Preparedness in Washington.
At the ODP, which was first established in 1998 as part of the Justice Department and then moved to Homeland Security, Mencer oversees the distribution of more than $55 million in grants to state and local first responders. The agency's overall budget for fiscal 2004 is $2.2 billion.
The ODP is the primary agency responsible for providing emergency training, funds to purchase equipment, support for planning and executing disaster exercises, technical assistance, and other support to state and local jurisdictions in preventing, planning for, and responding to acts of terrorism.
Mencer began her career as a high school Spanish teacher and, after 10 years, ended up in St. Petersburg, Fla. When a colleague told her that the FBI was looking for Spanish-speaking female agents, she applied. And finding the pay more attractive, she joined and graduated from the FBI Academy in 1978. She spent more than 20 years with the FBI, working in foreign counterintelligence.
Later, in Denver, Mencer headed a squad of special agents, analysts, local law enforcement officers, and other federal investigators in the Joint Terrorism Task Force. After she retired in 1998, she worked as a consultant providing anti-terrorism training to local law enforcement nationwide in cooperation with the Institute of Intergovernmental Research.
Mencer's familiarity with terrorism at the federal level, through her experience in the FBI and working in Denver with first responders and law enforcement officers, has given her an appreciation for the multilayered approach needed to combat terrorism, she told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee at her nomination hearing in September.
But Mencer, 56, has her work cut out for her. State agencies have complained about the ODP's lack of flexibility in grant distribution, as well as delays in delivering funding. She is working toward creating a "one-stop shop" for homeland security grants so that states will not have to jump through so many hoops to apply for grants.
Mencer was born in Illinois but spent most of her educational years in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from Ohio State University with a bachelor's degree in education.