President Obama last week said he would consider the recommendation of Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to name Ray Kelly as the next secretary of homeland security if the New York City Police Commissioner was interested in the job. Kelly is highly regarded as a no-nonsense cop with excellent organizational skills, but some in the import-export sector remember his tenure as U.S. Customs commissioner as more focused on catching criminals and contraband than minimizing procedures that delayed cross-border cargo shipments.
"I think he'd be fabulous at the Department of Homeland Security," said Samuel Banks, a former deputy and acting commissioner of U.S. Customs who worked under Kelly. "With him there, I don't think you’ll see DHS in the headlines as much because it won’t make as many mistakes. He won’t tolerate it."
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced two weeks ago that she would step down in September to become chancellor of the University of California system after nearly five years at the helm. Within hours, Schumer spoke with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and publicly called for Kelly to replace Napolitano. It is unlikely that the politically savvy Schumer would have floated Kelly's name without first talking to the police commissioner.
"The Department of Homeland Security is one of the most important agencies in the federal government. Its leader needs to be someone who knows law enforcement, understands anti-terrorism efforts, and is a top-notch administrator, and at the NYPD, Ray Kelly has proven that he excels in all three," Schumer said in a statement.
"As a former head of the Customs and Border patrol [sic], he has top-level federal management experience. There is no doubt Ray Kelly would be a great DHS Secretary, and I have urged the White House to very seriously consider his candidacy. While it would be New York’s loss, Commissioner Kelly’s appointment as the head of DHS would be a great boon for the entire country," he continued. "Janet Napolitano has done an outstanding job, and if I had to give her a grade on her tenure, it would be ‘A+.’ We need someone just as good who can fill her shoes.”
In an interview with the New York affiliate of Spanish-language television network Univision, according to a report in Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call
, Obama said Kelly would make a good candidate to lead the DHS.
"Mr. Kelly might be very happy where he is, but if he's not, I'd want to know about it because obviously, he'd be very well-qualified for the job," Obama said.
He called Kelly "one of the best there is" and said, "Ray Kelly's obviously done an extraordinary job in New York, and the federal government partners a lot with New York."
Kelly was under secretary for enforcement at the Treasury Department from 1996 to 1998, where he supervised U.S. Customs; the Secret Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. He took the Customs post, which actually was a step down in rank, when he couldn't find a suitable replacement for then-commissioner George Weiss and because he relished having an operational command, according to Banks.
Since his departure in early September 2001, Customs has tripled in size to 60,000 employees and been moved from Treasury as part of the post 9/11 governmental reorganization that resulted in the creation of DHS. Customs has also absorbed Border Patrol and become heavily focused on anti-terrorism. DHS, which oversees 22 agencies itself, has grown into an enormous bureaucracy that many analysts say still lacks the institutional capacity of more mature departments to properly manage functions such as procurement, personnel, IT development, and policy development.
Those who know him say Kelly, now in his second tour as NYPD chief, has a very hands-on management style.
"If he takes that DHS job, he will be engaged. He’s going to want tons of oversight over the agencies," Banks said in an interview from his home near Charlottesville, Va.
At Customs, Kelly insisted on better professionalism, integrity, accountability and training from the officers in the field to headquarters. He was tough on his staff, but no more so than he was on himself, ex-Customs officials said. Standardizing uniforms and vehicle markings was intended to give Customs the appearance of a serious law enforcement organization. The culture change did not sit well with some longtime bureaucrats accustomed to a more relaxed atmosphere and cozy relations with companies they were regulating.
"He does not tolerate incompetence. He’ll fire or move them. He’s very demanding of his people, has a knack of knowing what’s going on deep in an organization, and doesn’t tolerate deviations," Banks said.
His desire for control meant that all innovations came out of Washington. Good ideas from officers in the field were first vetted by senior management, and if they worked, they were then rolled out at ports of entry, he said.
At the same time Kelly pushed personnel to do their jobs correctly, he was sensitive to race and gender issues and made sure the agency was not biased in its decision-making.
"He wants a professional organization that no one can throw stones at," Banks said.
Without Kelly driving discipline into the ranks, he insisted, Customs would not have been positioned to react so quickly to dramatically tighten inspections at land-border crossings or ask foreign aviation authorities for passenger manifests to search for potential threats on arriving aircraft in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
The only down-side to the DHS job for someone action-oriented like Kelly is that it carries great responsibility for setting policy and dealing with politics, duties that Kelly may feel more comfortable with today, Banks said.
“The next DHS secretary is going to have be someone politically astute and have a long and deep understanding of immigration issues, or be a quick study,” said Susan Kohn Ross, a Los Angeles-based trade attorney at the firm of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp.
“There’s no question that Kelly is bright. But because he comes from a law enforcement background, one of the difficulties was he didn’t fully appreciate the close working relationship between Customs and the trade community. I know he made efforts in that area, but he was first and foremost a cop,” she said.
Kelly’s ability to stay in power through multiple mayors in New York shows he has political skill, Kohn Ross added.
While some industry representatives remembered Kelly as indifferent to trade enforcement and facilitation, others who dealt with him said the military-style belied an overall fairness towards international businesses.
A hallmark of Kelly's tenure was the build up of intelligence and analytical systems to target violators, adjust tactics as threats change and measure the effectiveness of various programs. After 9/11, Customs more fully embraced the concept of using data for risk management instead of trying to inspect huge amounts of shipments by hand or with imaging technology. In New York, Kelly has been a proponent of using technology to analyze crime trends and where the most likely threats exist to best deploy assets, much like CBP does. He established a Real Time Crime Center that uses data mining to search millions of computer records and give detectives investigative leads, according to his biography on the NYPD Web site.
His sophisticated approach is at odds with the 100-percent inspection approach famously tried by Congress last decade to address the threat of weapons of mass destruction in ocean containers, Banks suggested. That tactic was universally opposed by the private sector and most foreign governments.
“He wants to know where to apply his resources,” he said.
Kelly's insistence on developing metrics for evaluating the agency's work is something that CBP has struggled to replicate with programs like the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism or apprehensions on the southern border to prove to industry and the public that the extra security investments undertaken by the government and private sector have had a tangible effect on security.
When people complain about the “stop and frisk” tactics in New York, Kelly is able to produce the data showing how it has reduced crime levels, Banks said.
"We were too much internally focused, so he drove us to benchmark ourselves externally and bring in external advice," he recalled.
John McGowan, senior vice president of border security at Sandler & Travis Trade Advisory Services (STTAS), spent 33 years in U.S. Customs. After 9/11, he moved to the White House to be director of cargo and port security and headed cargo and trade policy when DHS was created in 2003. He said Kelly didn't tinker with trade compliance and revenue-collection missions because he felt they were working.
"He cared about trade and he had me there" to ensure cargo processing was efficient, said Banks, who worked closely with businesses to help secure their supply chains and meet customs requirements as a high-level executive at STTAS after retiring from Customs.
"He didn't neglect any part of the organization or any of the constituency groups - and they did get neglected after 9/11," Banks said. "He's not warm and fuzzy. He's strictly business."
Jon Kent, a trade lawyer and principal lobbyist for the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America, said Kelly was "pretty balanced" in his approach and attentive to customs brokers, including speaking at the group's annual conference. Kelly will better understand the role of CBP, and not think of it exclusively as a border enforcement agency, than someone else without any experience in trade policy, Kent added.
He expressed disappointment that the DHS under Napolitano wasn't heavily engaged in trade facilitation.
Others who dealt with DHS from within the government and outside said Napolitano's staff likely calculated that CBP's career leadership was doing a good job modernizing trade functions, freeing them up to focus on issues such as immigration control and domestic preparedness where they were receiving political pressure.
"When you're secretary of the DHS with 234,000 personnel, you have to balance a whole lot of different issues," Jayson Ahern, a former acting and deputy commissioner of CBP who is now a principal with the Chertoff Group, said. "She gave support to CBP when necessary and drove opportunities for bilateral supply chain security," especially with Canada and Mexico.
She is also credited with quickly coordinating foreign governments to develop better passenger and air cargo security measures in the wake of two near-miss terror attacks on airliners.
"DHS has very little to do with day-to-day trade and regulatory issues. If Kelly were secretary, that wouldn't be an active part of his portfolio," Ahern said.
Nonetheless, McGowan said, Napolitano “could have given more direction to the agencies. I think she deferred on that.”
Although the number of illegal immigrants crossing the southern border has fallen dramatically in recent years, enhanced border security is the lynchpin for any potential deal in Congress on a comprehensive immigration reform bill that is intended to provide documentation and a pathway to citizenship for illegals already in the country. The bill passed by the Senate last month would beef up the security cordon on the southern border with hundreds of miles of additional fencing, more detection technology and almost double the number of Border Patrol agents.
Kelly is perceived by many as having the law enforcement credentials that would enable conservative Republicans to vote for the legislation because they would have confidence that border infiltration would be reduced. Kelly doesn't have extensive experience in immigration matters. However, Customs during Kelly's tenure used to work with the Border Patrol when it was part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The Obama administration's nominee for deputy secretary is Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within DHS.
(The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the DHS Inspector General's Office is investigating Mayorkas for his role helping a company owned by Anthony Rodham, Hillary Clinton's younger brother, and linked to Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, win a foreign investor visa for a Chinese national after it was initially denied.)
CBP, which has fared better than most agencies when it comes to funding in a tight budget era, is poised to see its resources grow even more with passage of an immigration bill.
Kelly is “going to make sure that the officers that come in are trained and equipped” at a high level, Banks said.
“He’s just going to demand regular reports. He’s going to put his imprint on the organizations [within DHS] and some of the organizations are going to feel it a lot more than CBP,” he said.
Commentary: Get the title right.
I can't count the number of times government officials have botched the name of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Lay persons often call the agency Customs and Border Patrol, but it's bad form when government officials can't get the name of one of their own agencies correct. The latest example was Sen. Charles Schumer in a statement issued by his office to pitch for New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to be DHS secretary.
Worse yet, the statement said Kelly was the former head of CBP.
Not so. Kelly was commissioner of legacy U.S. Customs for three years ending in 2001. CBP did not exist until 2003, when it was taken out of the Treasury Department and brought together with almost two dozen agencies to create the Department of Homeland Security. The Border Patrol was moved from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service to CBP, as were inspectors from the Agriculture Department. – Eric Kulisch