Obama-Era Homeland Security Secretary Says She Doesn't Know Who Speaks For Department Amid Pandemic: Report

Obama-era Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she doesn't know who speaks for the department as senior positions remain vacant or filled with acting personnel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Napolitano, who served from 2009 to 2013, told The New York Times that having "consistency in your leadership team" was important and suggested the Trump administration "hasn't sustained that" as it seeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

"Right now for the life of me, I don't know who speaks for DHS," Napolitano told the Times. "Having nonacting leadership, and I think having consistency in your leadership team and the accumulation of experience, really matters. And I think it would be fair to say the current administration hasn't sustained that."

Newsweek has contacted Janet Napolitano and the Department of Homeland Security have been contacted for further comment. This article will be updated with any responses.

Ex-Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano
Ex-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies about the 2012 budget at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2011 in Washington, D.C. Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images

A Homeland Security spokeswoman told the Times that the criticism leveled at the department was "absolutely absurd" and added: "DHS' leaders have been at the forefront in helping contain the COVID-19 crisis. Thanks to President Trump's leadership, DHS. has been able to respond wherever and whenever needed.

As the novel coronavirus has continued its spread across the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has been tasked with carrying out screenings at 13 airports where flights from countries on President Donald Trump's coronavirus travel ban list are being routed.

It is also charged with referring people to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for advanced screening if they arrive in the country with COVID-19 symptoms.

In a release published Wednesday, the department announced that it researching methods to prevent the virus's spread.

William Bryan, a senior Homeland Security official performing the duties of the vacant Under Secretary for Science and Technology role, said: "This will help us understand many of the factors that influence the persistence of the virus on surfaces or in the air, and what methods are most effective for disinfecting potentially contaminated surfaces."

As it works with other departments to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, the Times has reported that a little more than a quarter of roles in its senior team are filled by acting personnel or remain vacant.

A total of 21 leadership positions listed on the Homeland Security Department's website are recorded as being vacant or covered by an acting representative, including the role of Homeland Security secretary.

The department's Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli made headlines at the end of February when he asked Twitter if anyone had trouble accessing Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracker, causing people to question why the member of President Trump's coronavirus task force did not have access to data on the virus's spread.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.
Obama-Era Homeland Security Secretary Says She Doesn't Know Who Speaks For Department Amid Pandemic: Report | U.S.