Succession Scenarios at Buckingham Palace and at Homeland Security

By David North on July 29, 2013

While, thanks to the arrival of the little Prince of Cambridge, the succession plans for the British monarchy are well established for the next 60 years, the succession for the secretary-ship of Homeland Security is not clear 60 days from now.

We do know that Janet Napolitano will step down (to become president of the University of California) on September 7. As everyone familiar with Washington's gridlock knows, it is highly unlikely that the president will nominate a new DHS Secretary and that the Senate will confirm that person before that date, though it is theoretically possible.

Meanwhile, though the palace has a heir in place, the aging Prince Charles, and an heir to the heir, in the youthful William, and an heir to the heir to the heir, in the infant George Alexander Louis, there is no deputy secretary at DHS.

Jane Holl Lute, who held that post since 2009, left it in April.

President Obama has nominated Alejandro Mayorkas, currently the director of USCIS, to that position but there is a nasty confirmation battle under way, as both my colleague, W.D. Reasoner, and I have reported in earlier blogs, a process that is likely to be prolonged, with unpredictable results.

So who serves if the secretary leaves on schedule, and there is no one confirmed for either the top spot or the deputy's position by September 7?

The answer would be Rand Beers, a name not known in the immigration world, but an old Washington hand, who is now both an under secretary of DHS and the acting deputy. (When departments have both a deputy secretary and one or more under secretaries, the former has precedence; one does not need to be confirmed by the Senate to hold an acting position.)

Though Beers has not been selected by the president (not yet anyway) to be either DHS secretary or deputy, he is currently the ranking under secretary in a coterie of three under secretaries and one assistant secretary who is regarded as an "under secretary equivalent" according to Wikipedia. All four of them, of course, outrank the sets of deputy under secretaries, assistant secretaries, and their equivalents, such as Mayorkas, in his role as chief of USCIS.

Looking back in time for a moment, during the Wilson Administration, when the young FDR was assistant secretary of the Navy, he simultaneously played the role of deputy, and all the roles of unders, of deputy unders, and assistants. Things were simpler then and FDR's position at Navy was on a par with other sub-Cabinet political appointees in other departments at that time.

Returning to 2013, Beers' full title is under secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate, and he is thus the top anti-terrorism official in the department.

A one-time Marine Corps company commander in Vietnam, and a career foreign service officer, he has worked for the White House national security staff, and at one point was the assistant secretary of state for, to use the D.C. shorthand, "drugs and thugs". More formally, the position is known as the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs.

Beers left the government in 2003 to become the national security adviser to the Kerry-Edwards campaign; he subsequently ran a national security think tank and taught at Harvard before taking his current job in 2009. His DHS biography can be seen here.

I have never met Mr. Beers or heard him testify and know nothing of his experience in, or opinions about, immigration matters. His government bio says that he currently supervises, among other things, United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT). For my colleague Janice Kephart's views on that program, see her recent blog on it.

Beers, in short, may be the acting secretary of DHS for a while, and, as such, will be thrown into the efforts of the administration to pass a sweeping immigration bill.