WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced her resignation Friday to take over the University of California system, leaving behind a huge department still working to adjust to the merger of nearly two dozen agencies after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The former Arizona governor came to President Barack Obama's Cabinet with plans to fix the nation's broken immigration system, and she is leaving in the midst of a heated battle in Congress over how — or if — that overhaul will be accomplished.
The most frequent contact by most Americans is with the department's Transportation Security Administration screeners at airports. But its charter is much broader: It comprises agencies that protect the president, respond to disasters and enforce immigration laws as well as secure air travel. It includes the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection as well as TSA.
Like the department Napolitano has run since the beginning of the Obama administration, the University of California system is a giant, multilayered organization, though with a far different mission. Her appointment, which still must be confirmed by the system's board of regents, could triple Napolitano's salary from $199,700 to around $600,000. She said she would stay on as secretary until early September.
It is not clear whom Obama may be considering to replace her.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday he wants to Obama to nominate New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Unlike the University of California school system, which dates to the 1860s, the Homeland Security Department is just a decade old and at times has seemed in search of a clear mission.
Though Napolitano came to Washington with plans to change the immigration system, her tenure is marked with few new sweeping immigration policies. And those she has pushed through were met with great controversy, such as a policy to give thousands of young immigrants living in the U.S. illegally temporary reprieve from deportation, a plan rolled out in the summer of 2012 before the presidential election.