WASHINGTON – A retired Coast Guard admiral, a current New York City police commissioner and a former California congresswoman are among the early names being floated in Washington as possible picks to replace outgoing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
On Friday, Napolitano, a long-time Obama confidant and one of his first-term cabinet members, made the surprise announcement that she would be resigning from her government job later this year and seeking a post as president of the University of California.
Her move leaves a void at the top of the government agency tasked with keeping Americans safe and overseeing everything from immigration and border patrol to cyber security as well as responses to natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.
Even though Napolitano called her time at DHS the “highlight" of her professional career, her four-year tenure has not been conflict-free. The former Arizona governor was called out multiple times in the media and by lawmakers while enduring numerous controversies related to the agencies that DHS oversees.
Among the complaints, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents accused the department leadership in a lawsuit of failing to properly enforce immigration law. Their arguments center on the practice of using "prosecutorial discretion" -- allowing department lawyers to selectively determine which immigrants to pursue for deportation, and which to let go.
Napolitano's aides claimed it was a matter of prioritizing resources, although some agents claimed it ran afoul of immigration law.
Napolitano's department later enacted a Dream Act-style policy giving young illegal immigrants a reprieve.
Many political experts believe Napolitano’s departure could give President Obama a much-needed chance to hit the reset button between Republicans and Democrats who have been sharply divided on Napolitano’s actions and the direction she’s taken the department.
“This is the perfect opportunity for the Obama administration to pick a person who is going to build a bridge between the two parties,” one source close to the matter told FoxNews.com.
The source believes former Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen could be the perfect pick for the job.
“He’s respected by both Republicans and Democrats on the Hill and that’s a big thing he’s got going for him,” the source said, adding, “The only question is whether he wants to give up his big paycheck and go back into public service.”
The source estimated that Allen makes up to $1 million a year in salary and bonuses.
Allen is best known for directing the federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He retired from the Coast Guard on June 30, 2010 but stayed on for another 36 days and continued his role as the National Incident Commander of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He is currently a senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton.
Another name being floated in Washington as a candidate for the job is New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Kelly, who has been leading the city’s police department for more than a decade, was considered a one-time contender to lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the Clinton administration. He served as New York’s commissioner during the first World Trade Center bombing and at 71 has the experience to lead the department.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer reportedly called White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough Friday morning and offered a glowing recommendation. The Democratic senator continued the sentiment in a press statement later in the day.
“The Department of Homeland Security is one of the most important agencies in the federal government," Schumer said. “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."
But not everyone is convinced Kelly should be Obama’s go-to guy to lead the department. Kelly has been criticized for surveillance programs he’s backed that tracked Muslim student leaders in New York.
Others in D.C. believe former California congresswoman Jane Harman could strike the right political balance needed for the job. Harman served as a ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee and is regarded by many as a moderate Democrat. She gained ground with Republicans when she publicly defended some of the Bush administration’s surveillance programs. She now heads up the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.