The U.S. Senate confirmed Georgetown alumna Kirstjen Nielsen (SFS ’94) as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security by a 62-37 vote Tuesday.
Nielsen will fill the vacancy left by former DHS Secretary John Kelly, who left the department in July to serve as President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. Nielsen, who served as Kelly’s chief of staff at the DHS, will replace the acting secretary, Elaine Duke, who has led the DHS since Kelly left.
A Florida native, Nielsen attended the University of Virginia School of Law after graduating from Georgetown.
The DHS, founded in 2002 and currently the third largest government agency with around 230,000 employees, deals with national security concerns like immigration enforcement, transportation security, disaster response and managing the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Nielsen, a cybersecurity expert, said she views cybersecurity as the most important issue that the DHS will address under her leadership.
“It is my greatest honor to serve as Secretary alongside the remarkable men and women of DHS,” Nielsen wrote in a Dec. 6 news release. “Our nation faces a complex threat landscape that is constantly evolving. I will do my utmost to ensure that the Department meets the threats of today and tomorrow, and to ensure our frontline personnel have the tools and resources to accomplish their vital missions.”
Nielsen will be the first DHS secretary with experience working in the agency, which Trump said will assist her as she assumes leadership. DHS is the youngest federal cabinet agency, created in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Previous secretaries have served as governors and federal counsels before leading the department
“There will be no on-the-job training for Kirstjen. She is ready on day one,” Trump said in a news conference Oct. 12.
Nielsen is a “no-nonsense player and a policy wonk,” though her “regimented style” has frustrated some senior White House officials accustomed to a freewheeling environment, according to a New York Times story Oct. 11.
Nielsen faced challenges from Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee who said she lacked experience leading a large agency.
Senators Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) voted against Nielsen, voicing their concerns about her independence from the White House.
“Throughout her confirmation process, Ms. Nielsen failed to demonstrate that she would provide the steady experienced leadership — free from political interference from the White House — that the department needs,” Hassan said.
Nielsen received endorsements from Kelly and former DHS secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, who served under former President George W. Bush.
In his opening statement at a hearing for Nielsen on Nov. 8, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) said Nielsen’s experience in the DHS and time working with Kelly equip her well to lead the agency.
“Fortunately, when Ms. Nielsen served under Secretary Kelly, she witnessed firsthand how quickly and dramatically morale can be improved within DHS by providing its workforce the authority and support they need to perform the tasks they were hired to do,” Johnson said.