Jeh Johnson, a former high ranking Pentagon official, served as United States Department of Defense general counsel during President Obama's first term.
Johnson began his legal career as a federal prosecutor in New York's Southern District. Johnson has been active in Democratic party politics, moving frequently between his law firm and public service. He was general counsel to the Air Force during the Clinton administration and has advised the presidential campaigns of both Obama and John Kerry on national security policy.
Johnson has played a key role in many of the Obama administration's most sensitive national security and counterterrorism policies, including the controversial drone program and the revival of military commissions to try suspected terrorists.
If Congress approves Johnson's nomination, he will become the fourth U.S. Department of Homeland Security since its inception in 2002.
"The President is selecting Johnson because he is one the most highly qualified and respected national security leaders, having served as the senior lawyer for the largest government agency in the world," a US official told Reuters."
Johnson will replace former Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, who resigned in July. Secretary Napolitano, a former Governor of Arizona, was chosen by President Obama based her experience governing a state that borders with Mexico. Napolitano will likely be remembered for implementing the "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign to much of the nations "soft targets," including train stations and shopping malls.
In 2003, President George W. Bush nominated Tom Ridge, the former Governor of Pennsylvania, as the first U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Secretary Ridge, who served until 2005 was best known for the Department of Homeland Security’s original color coded threat level chart, created to warn Americans of the probability of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
The Bush administration chose Michael Chertoff to replace Ridge as DHS chief. Chertoff, who co-authored the USA Patriot Act, served from 2005-2009. Chertoff was previously Assistant U.S. Attorney General and Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals. DHS Secretary Chertoff was perhaps best known for his risk based formula for alloting Department of Homeland Security grants to U.S. state and local level governments.
The risk based formula came under fire immediately upon implication. In 2006, New York Congressman Peter King criticized the risk based formula in his testimony before Congress. Rep. King told lawmakers:
"This year the Department of Homeland Security, in making its grants, its homeland security funding, cut the city of New York by 40%. I said then and I say now, this is a stab in the back to the city of New York. It is indefensible. It was indefensible. It was disgraceful. And to me it raises very, very real questions about the competency of this Department in determining how it is going to protect America."
Interestingly, Jeh Johnson shares his birthday with the September 11th terrorist attacks, the deadliest attacks on U.S. soil. That alone (arguably) may make him the most qualified DHS Secretary thus far. However, actual hands on experience in U.S. national security and counterterrorism policy making is unprecedented and a step in the right direction for the troubled agency.