New immigration enforcement chief gets mixed reception

Critics say Julie Myers lacks experience, while supporters say she has built relationships that will serve her well.

President Bush gave his pick to head one of largest investigative agencies in the federal government a recess appointment this week, prompting a strong and mixed reaction. Critics said Thursday she is too inexperienced to manage a vast bureaucracy, while supporters contended she is perfect for the job.

Whatever the take, there was widespread consensus that 36-year-old Julie Myers has her work cut out for her as she takes charge of the Homeland Security Department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau. Myers previously worked in the departments of Treasury, Commerce and Justice, and most recently served as a special assistant to Bush.

She will replace Michael Garcia, who announced his resignation last July and is now the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. Because Myers was given a recess appointment, she escaped the full Senate confirmation process.

Critics have questioned whether Myers, who is the niece of former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers and wife of the chief of staff for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, is qualified for the job.

Concerns about her management experience grew considerably last fall after the government's failed response to Hurricane Katrina caused Michael Brown to resign as chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Lawmakers began to scrutinize presidential appointees' political and personal connections more closely just as Myers was nominated.

But the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last October approved her by a vote that fell along party lines, with Republicans voting in her favor.

"Managing ICE, the second largest federal law enforcement agency with more than 15,000 employees and a budget of $4 billion, is a mammoth responsibility," said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia.

"The head of ICE should be an individual who has demonstrated extensive executive-level leadership and the ability to manage a budget through reorganizations and budget cycles," he said. "Ms. Myers has not demonstrated this ability."

Akaka introduced legislation in November that would establish minimum qualification standards for most Senate-confirmed positions at DHS.

Supporters of Myers, however, said she has unique experience that will enable ICE to coordinate with other federal agencies and departments. They also pointed out that Myers has a close relationship which Chertoff and the White House, which should help elevate the bureau's status and needs.

"We're confident that she's going to do a good job," said James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. Thousands of ICE employees have joined the FOP as individual members.

Pasco said his organization represents the interests of rank-and-file law enforcement officers across the country, and would not support somebody who does not have the necessary skills to manage ICE. He added that his group worked with Myers when she was at the Justice Department and White House.

"She worked in an extraordinarily important position and did so very effectively from our perspective," Pasco said.

He added that ICE "cries out" for someone with strong management and political skills, both of which he said Myers possesses.

Opposition to Myers is mainly "a matter of timing and political shenanigans" after Hurricane Katrina, Pasco said. "If she'd had been appointed a year ago, she would have been confirmed in regular order," he said.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said she is requesting a meeting with Myers to better understand her vision and priorities for the agency. Jackson Lee is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee and ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims.

"Ms. Myers needs to make friends with members of Congress," Jackson Lee said. "Homeland Security has had its troubling days. It has not been a smooth operation. In order for us to begin making a new start, appointees need to begin setting a more positive agenda."

Bush also gave a recess appointment to Tracy Henke to be executive director of the department's Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness.

"Both Julie and Tracy have consistently demonstrated that they possess the experience, judgment and determination necessary for these demanding positions," Chertoff said in response to the appointments. "They have my trust and full support, and I look forward to their contributions to the department's mission."

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who lead the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said they were upset that Bush circumvented the normal confirmation process.

Myers could not be reached for an interview.

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