Acting Homeland Security boss brings experience to Harvey role

As thousands of flood victims in Texas face the harsh reality and devastation left behind by Hurricane Harvey, the focus now shifts to relief efforts -- including how the federal government will respond.

One key player is Elaine Duke, acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, who is just one month into her new role.

Duke took the job when Gen. John Kelly, the previous secretary of Homeland Security, became President Trump’s chief of staff at the White House.

In a recent interview with NPR, Duke outlined how DHS planned to operate in the aftermath of Harvey. She described how DHS coordinates efforts with its sub-units, including FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

Safety is the key concern, Duke said.

“We surge with FEMA. So some of our resources in DHS join FEMA to support its support of the governor -- in this case, Texas," Duke said. "But we also have to ensure the safety and law enforcement throughout the country. So we find that right balance of surging resources to FEMA and continuing our current operations.”

In the week since Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, DHS has activated its Surge Capacity Force, a voluntary program that allows DHS employees outside FEMA to assist in disaster response efforts, pending DHS approval.

ICE has deployed 200 agents to provide security in areas affected by Harvey, as well as aid in search-and-rescue efforts.

Duke, who served as deputy secretary of DHS before taking the top job on an interim basis, has served in the federal government for nearly three decades.

As deputy secretary, Duke led “all efforts related to the strategic execution of DHS’s vital missions,” her DHS biography states.

Duke is also a big proponent of President Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, writing in USA Today this month that it “will save countless innocent lives.”

“Our Border Patrol agents have seen firsthand the success of a border wall in Yuma, Ariz. — which serves as a prime example of how investments in personnel, technology and a border wall can turn the tide against a flood of illegal immigration and secure our homeland,” Duke wrote.

Congress will have a large to-do list when it returns from recess after Labor Day. First and foremost will likely be allocating funding for Harvey relief efforts. President Trump is reportedly calling for $6 billion in aid.