JIM LEHRER: And to our Newsmaker interview with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Judy Woodruff spoke with her at the Department of Homeland Security earlier today.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary Janet Napolitano, thank you very much for talking with us.
JANET NAPOLITANO, secretary of Homeland Security: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You were just at the White House today talking about how to save money with regard to what the government buys, who it hires to do work for it. With all due respect, just about every president we can remember has come into office talking about saving money, being more efficient, waste, fraud and abuse. Why should we believe it will be any different with this president?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, President Obama has made it a priority and a very public one. And we have to report to the White House and to the people how the stimulus money is being spent. We’re going to post it on the Internet.
And part of being in the cabinet is, agency by agency, going through and really looking at what we’re spending money on. Are we doing it in the best way, the most efficient way?
I’m building on my own experience as governor of Arizona, where we really looked, you know, across the lines of government at things like what you’re paying for utilities and contractors and consultants versus employees, your fleet management, the amount you pay for travel and training. There are other ways to accomplish some of those things so that you can reserve more money for the mission-critical functions of the government.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But isn’t there always institutional resistance to making some of these changes? How hard is it to do the kinds of things you’re talking about?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, some of it is pretty easy, once it’s identified. One of the ways you fight institutional resistance is you include the actual institution.
For example, in the Department of Homeland Security, we’re setting up a way so that employees can give us their ideas of things that they are spending time on or see money being spent on that they think could better be used elsewhere. So that’s one way you do it.
Sometimes you can’t go back immediately and rewrite what’s been done. You have to let projects get finished, because it would be more expensive to cancel them than to simply continue them, more expensive, say, to disallow a contract rather than to have it completed, that sort of thing.
That requires analysis. That means you’ve really got to look at it line item by line item.
Department has a broad mission
JUDY WOODRUFF: You've been here all of, what, six weeks. You were one of the first cabinet secretaries confirmed. What have you found? And I want to say -- I preface this by saying there was a report done not long ago that was described, looking at the Department of Homeland Security, and it was described as essentially a portrait in dysfunction. What have you found here?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Yes, I would not agree with that portrait. I would say it's a young department. It just turned 6 years old. It was amalgamated, 22 agencies brought together, and there's a certain maturation process that goes along with that.
But that process has begun. And I've been overall very well pleased with the men and women, all I've found in this department. Many of them joined originally. It was stood up after 9/11. And so that theme runs through the department.
But we now touch on so many things and have so many functions to perform that we have experts in any number of law enforcement areas, and that allows us to coordinate and to get some synergy that didn't exist before.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It was created in the wake -- in a hurry, in a sense -- in the wake of 9/11. Do you see the mission of this department the same as the Bush administration saw it, do you think?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, I'll tell you what I see the mission as. Our mission is to protect the homeland, to protect it from threats and risks, whether man-caused, such as a terrorist act, whether caused by nature, and then to make sure, working with our state and local partners and our governors' offices and our cities and so forth, that we have the ability to recover when something does happen.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Any differences, do you think, from your predecessor here, in terms of how you see the primary function of this place?
JANET NAPOLITANO: I think the primary function, it's very similar. I think there are, obviously, some differences in priorities, and that's to be expected in a change of administration.
One of the reasons I think President Obama asked me to serve as secretary was because of the kind of experience I've had as an attorney general, as a U.S. attorney, as a border state governor, so I've dealt with the issues that homeland security has at its core function.
I've dealt with immigration and all of its complexities. I've dealt with the border. I've dealt with law enforcement. I've dealt with having to respond and prepare for natural disasters. So it's an experience, I think, that has well prepared me for the type of department this is.
Securing personal privacy
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, for example, you created the position of chief privacy officer here to, I think as you said, ensure that any new initiatives with regard to homeland security don't infringe on Americans' civil liberties. Are there existing laws that worry you in that regard that you think should be looked at?
JANET NAPOLITANO: The Constitution of the United States would be an example. I think there needs to be a sense that, as we move to make greater use of technology, to improve the security of the country, the protection of the people of our country, that we don't necessarily and shouldn't do it at the expense of personal privacy.
So, yes, we have brought on board one of the leading attorneys in this area to help us at the beginning stage look at what we're doing and make suggestions as to how we can achieve our security and safety initiatives, but protect people's privacy, as well.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me move to a subject that everybody is interested in, and that's immigration. You have questioned the value of the border fence, a proposed border fence between the United States and Mexico. What do you think should be the cornerstone of immigration policy if it's not that fence?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, as I told the Senate at my confirmation hearing, I would not advise the Congress that building a fence from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, is immigration enforcement.
You need boots on the ground. You need Border Patrol agents who are well trained and well supervised. You need greater use of technology, ground sensors, vehicle stop posts, radar, and the like.
You need greater enforcement in the interior of the country, particularly against employers who intentionally, knowingly, and consistently go into the illegal labor market. That's what's driving a lot of the illegal immigration into our country.
And that way you have an actual system that makes sense. A fence is not a system.
Drug war spills over the border
JUDY WOODRUFF: To move quickly, there are so many issues to talk to you about, but one I do want to raise, Secretary Napolitano, is the drug war going on right now in our next-door neighbor, Mexico, the Mexican government pitted against the cartels.
This is a war that has taken over 7,000 lives just since the beginning of last year, stunning number, I think, to many people. How much has that war spilled over into this country?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, first, this is a courageous battle that is being fought in Mexico now. And what President Calderon is doing is taking on these big cartels who are very large and flush with cash and very powerful in their own right.
In terms of spillover violence, I think you have to be careful how you define "spillover." Speaking as the former prosecutor on a border state, there's always been a certain amount of violence and crime associated with drug trafficking, per se. You prosecute it, you catch it, you prosecute it, and so forth.
In terms of the spillover violence that you're referring to, I think what you're really talking about is this big war between these big cartels and between these big cartels and the Mexican federal government.
Is it spilling over in terms of intentionally identifying individuals on this side of the border to kidnap, to murder, and the like? We haven't really seen that yet.
But we are constantly in touch with law enforcement on both sides of the border. We're working very strongly with our colleagues in Mexico. We want to support this effort. Those drug cartels are organized crime in a major, major way, and everything we can do to eradicate them we want to do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In one case, the cartels have threatened to cross over from Juarez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas, to kill a former Mexican police chief. That doesn't demonstrate that they have a lot of confidence in border security or law enforcement in this country, do they?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, they threatened it. And the El Paso police provided extra protection for the individual involved, who was the former mayor of Juarez, I think is the whom you're referring to.
But let's be very, very clear: This is a very serious battle. It could spill over into the United States. If it does, we do have contingency plans to deal with it.
But it begins with state and local law enforcement on our side of the border. We support them as the first step in that contingency plan, should we see that kind of major spillover.
Military cooperation with Mexico
JUDY WOODRUFF: We heard Defense Secretary Gates talk just last weekend about increasing military cooperation between U.S. and Mexico. Is this something that you and he have discussed in any detail?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Secretary Gates and I have discussed how best the United States can support the president of Mexico, the federal government of Mexico, in this battle, and what resources can be brought to bear.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Can't say anything more about it at this point?
JANET NAPOLITANO: It would not be appropriate for me to say more.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally, Madam Secretary, what's the responsibility of the United States when it comes to this drug war in Mexico? The U.S. is the major market for these drugs. We know it's U.S. weapons that are being sold to the members of the cartel, to the thugs who carry out the work that they do. What's the role of the U.S., responsibility of the U.S. in that?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, there is a role here for the United States. The cash that is feeding these cartels is cash that is being made off the sale of illegal drugs. The weapons are primarily coming from the United States. So there is an interconnection there.
Besides the fact Mexico is not just our geographic neighbor, it's a huge trade, tourism, a partner of the United States. I think it's our No. 2 or 3 trading partner.
And so that border needs to be a secure area, because if it's not, you have not just violence and people being killed. You also have other kinds of after-effects, as well. So we all have a stake in making sure that this war that is going on in Mexico comes out successfully.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, finally, how much of your time right now is spent on this issue?
JANET NAPOLITANO: A significant amount of time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, it's very good to talk with you. Thank you.
JANET NAPOLITANO: Thank you.