New York City Top Cop Ray Kelly Isn't the Right Choice for DHS Chief


United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is stepping down to run the University of California system at a pivotal moment in the country’s effort to revamp its domestic security infrastructure and spruce up its global reputation. There are now 15 vacant top posts at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is adding to the uncertainty surrounding Napolitano's exit.

Among the candidates to replace Napolitano is New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. A stern director with a unique eye for the public spotlight, Kelly is revered for his post-9/11 zero-tolerance crackdown on criminal activity (especially on public transportation and near renowned landmarks), but has been criticized for being a chief proponent of the city's controversial “stop and frisk” policy. Kelly’s candidacy for the DHS post could be viewed as an attempt to quell the lingering uneasiness of a public forever changed by the attacks on U.S. soil.

Although Kelly is a strong candidate — his experience includes Clinton-era leadership of agencies now under DHS — he is not the right man for the Cabinet-level job. Here are a few reasons why:

Obama still needs to answer the call for more diversity.

In recent months, President Barack Obama has judiciously filled top jobs in the administration, heeding a calls for diversity in his senior ranks. Despite this new hiring surge, voids remain, especially in positions key to the maintenance of America’s economic and national security. The top DHS post should go to a seasoned administrator who is close to the immigration-reform debate and committed to maintaining a fair and balanced security infrastructure. Despite Kelly’s stature and years of law enforcement experience, other candidates in the running for the top DHS spot would bring both fresh cultural diversity and ample political skills to the table.

DHS needs an internal reorganization wizard, not a political celebrity.

The DHS was established in a post-9/11 frenzy, and was cobbled together from federal agencies that were both directly and tangentially tasked with protecting America’s borders. As such, the DHS is fundamentally a bureaucracy. The next department chief will need to be both pragmatic and aggressive in his or her efforts to audit the department for inefficiencies, and reappropriate the agency's funds. Much as Italy chose a technocrat as prime minister to balance its checkbook, Obama should choose someone with financial and structural management experience for top billing at DHS.

New York still needs Kelly.

As Kelly pointed out in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, New York City is significantly safer than it was a decade ago, but remains a target for both large- and small-scale criminal activity, the perpetrators of which are both foreign and domestic. The controversy surrounding the New York City Police Department’s “stop and frisk” policy could be enough to take Kelly out of the running, but it also serves as a reminder that Kelly has more work to do in New York, in order to consolidate his legacy as a local champion of national counterterrorism and homeland security measures.