Homeland Security remains at forefront of the transition

While the federal government will undergo an extensive political makeover during the transition period, one agency has less room for error than most. The Homeland Security Department, which includes the Transportation Security Administration and myriad other federal law enforcement agencies, goes through the same leadership changes as the rest of the agencies, but it also holds the crucial responsibility of ensuring America remains safe during this historically vulnerable period.

Joe Biden thrust the issue into the election spotlight recently when he said at a fundraiser that Barack Obama would be tested by "an international crisis, a generated crisis," early in his presidency. Despite the controversy over his remark, history shows that several presidents have, indeed, been tested soon after taking office. Cases in point include President Clinton and Somalia and, of course, President Bush and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

With nearly three years of preparation leading up to the next few pivotal months, DHS is determined to ensure the country remains safe. TSA Deputy Administrator Gale Rossides, who has been working on the transition since planning began, discusses the unique challenges that DHS, as a relatively new federal department, is facing in its first presidential transition. In an interview with NationalJournal.com's Amy Harder, she emphasized the importance of strong leadership during the handoff. Edited excerpts follow.

Q. What is your role in the transition?

Rossides: I am currently the deputy administrator of TSA. During the transition, I will be designated as the acting administrator until such time as the next administration names and the Senate confirms a new administrator of TSA.

Q. What is unique about this election year's transition period in terms of national security?

Rossides: What's unique... for DHS and for TSA, it will be a change in administration where you will have a new president. We went through the transition when President Bush began his second term, but it was the same president and during that transition, obviously, we got a new secretary with Secretary [Michael] Chertoff. So what's unique for DHS is that this will be a change in administration where the incumbent president is new and not having been on the job four years.

In other respects, though, it is not that unusual because all federal agencies go through transitions every four or eight years as part of the democratic process. We in DHS and in TSA specifically, like all the rest of the federal government, will go through some pretty standard preparation for the transition and pretty standard processes after the transition in terms of briefing the new administration team on the agencies' programs and issues.

Q. How long has DHS, including TSA and all the other subsidiary agencies, been preparing for the transition?

Rossides: The way I'd like to answer that is not focused on the January 20th inauguration, when there's a change in administration.... I chair what we call the senior leadership team, which is all of our career executives who manage the agency. And we call them the senior leadership team because they manage it in total as a team, kind of like a corporate board in the private sector. My focus over the last three years has been to really build that team and get the agency operating at a level where the change in administrations and the change in who is administrator wouldn't be impacted during a transition period.

Click here to read the complete interview and check out the new blog Lost in Transition, a joint effort of Government Executive and National Journal.

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