SAN DIEGO — Elaine Duke, set to become acting U.S. homeland secretary on Monday, has the rare distinction of serving in high-level positions in three administrations.
She was DHS undersecretary for management from 2008 to 2010, tapped by President George W. Bush and kept on by President Barack Obama. After she headed her own business consulting firm in the Washington area for seven years, President Donald Trump nominated her to return to government as deputy secretary and the Senate approved her appointment 85-14 without a hitch.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who was named Trump’s chief of staff on Friday, said at a conference last week that Duke was “a wonderful woman” with deep experience in government. He said her biggest assignment as the sprawling department’s No. 2 official was to bring more efficiency.
Duke will manage an annual budget of more than $40 billion and 240,000 employees. Created in 2003 in the aftermath of the terror strikes on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Homeland Security comprises more than 20 agencies, from the Coast Guard and Secret Service to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Customs and Border Protection is the nation’s largest law enforcement agency with 60,000 employees.
Her positions and background have largely kept her out of the spotlight on some of the department’s most politically charged assignments, like deporting people in the country illegally and deciding who enters the country by air, land and sea.
“She is a very experienced person when it comes to all aspects of management in the federal government,” Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security secretary during the final years of the Bush administration, said Friday night. “In terms of ability to understand all management elements in the department, you couldn’t find a better person.”
Duke began her government career 28 years ago as an Air Force contracting officer and worked in the Navy, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Smithsonian Institution before joining Homeland Security in 2008.
Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican who represents Duke’s home state of Ohio, said at her confirmation hearing this year that she was an expert on contracting, property management, organizational change and human resources.