Mr. President— The Committee which I am privileged to chair – the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee -- is responsible for working with the Administration and others to help protect our nation’s security at home and abroad. At the same time, we strive to make sure that federal agencies work better and more efficiently with the resources we entrust to them.
During my years of public service, I’ve learned that the most important ingredient in enabling organizations to work is leadership. That is the case both in government and the private sector, and in organizations large and small. Part of our shared responsibility here, then, is ensuring that we have effective leaders in place across our federal government.
And, it is every Senator’s constitutional role to provide advice and consent on the President’s nominations in a thorough and timely manner as part of the Senate’s confirmation process.
While Congress will soon wrap up the 2013 session with far less to show for it than many of us would have liked, the Senate will soon have the opportunity to fill a key leadership post in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—the role of Deputy Secretary.
This Department, as we all know, plays a critical role in protecting our nation from harm—whether the threat relates to terrorism from abroad, home grown extremists, cyberattacks, or natural disasters.
Because of the Department’s significant role in the security our country, I have been very concerned, as my colleagues well know, for many months about the high number of senior level vacancies at DHS. In fact, the Department has been without a Senate confirmed Deputy Secretary since April and without a Senate confirmed Secretary since early September.
Earlier this week we took an important step to address this problem by voting to confirm Jeh Johnson as the next Secretary of DHS with overwhelming bipartisan support. That’s good news but we shouldn’t stop there. We need to ensure that Secretary Johnson has a Senate-confirmed leadership team in place, including Alejandro “Ali” Mayorkas as his Deputy.
This evening I’d like to take some time to speak in strong support of the nomination of Director Mayorkas’ nomination and explain why I firmly believe that he’s one of the leaders we so desperately need at the DHS.
As of this week, more than eight months have passed since Deputy Secretary Holl Jane Lute stepped down from her post. And, nearly six months have passed since the President nominated Alejandro Mayorkas, currently the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, for that post. It’s time to put in place Senate confirmed leadership in this very important Deputy Secretary position.
The former Deputy Secretary, Jane Holl Lute, was widely respected by the Members on my Committee and many of my other colleagues in the Senate for her leadership, management, expertise, and candor. She made great strides in many areas – for example, in narrowing the operational and management issues identified as "high risk" by the Government Accountability Office.
I think it’s safe to say that the Department needs somebody with her same level of commitment to tackling problems head-on.
And I also think it’s safe to say that Director Mayorkas understands and is well-prepared to tackle these management challenges and is committed to continuing these reform efforts needed to move the Department further forward.
Director Mayorkas has a distinguished record of leadership and public service. In fact, he has been confirmed by the Senate not once but twice – first as the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, the youngest U.S. Attorney in the country at that time, and again, in his current capacity, as the leader of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). He has also served as a partner at a major U.S. law firm, O’Melveny and Myers.
Director Mayorkas has a long and distinguished record in law enforcement. As an Assistant U.S. Attorney, he aggressively prosecuted drug traffickers, human smugglers, and violent criminals.
As U.S. Attorney, Mr. Mayorkas led the largest federal judicial system in the United States and was appointed by the U.S. Attorney General, Janet Reno, to serve on her advisory committee on ethics and government.
Since his confirmation—by voice vote—-by the Senate in 2009, Director Mayorkas has served as Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services since 2009, skillfully leading the largest immigration system in the world. In this capacity, Director Mayorkas has been responsible for an 18,000 member workforce that maintains more than 200 offices worldwide and is supported by a $3 billion budget.
And Director Mayorkas has led the effort to turn around an agency that was widely considered to be foundering and helped put it on the path to professionalism and competence.
His first action after being confirmed was to order a top to bottom review of the agency to identify its strengths, and weaknesses. When the review concluded, Director Mayorkas became concerned that Citizenship and Immigration Services was prioritizing speed over security when it came to processing visa applications.
In order to make sure that national security concerns were getting the proper attention, he created an entire new Directorate responsible for policing visa issuance, reporting directly to him. This ensured that national security professionals would have a seat at the management table, and a voice in all major decisions.
Director Mayorkas has proven that he is an exceptional manager during his time at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Let me give you some concrete examples of how he has made the agency more effective.
He dramatically improved what I believe is one of the most important programs in all of DHS, e-Verify. This is the voluntary program that allows employers to check whether prospective employees are eligible to work in the United States.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that, under Director Mayorkas leadership, the number of employers using e-Verify tripled—from 156,000 employers in 2009 to 473,000 today. The number of people processed by E-Verify also increased from 8.7 million to 20.5 million. That is just tremendous improvement in this important program.
His implementation last year of the President’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—a hugely complicated and challenging undertaking that brought hundreds of thousands of people out of the shadows— has also been widely praised.
Within 60 days, Director Mayorkas managed to implement a program that processed hundreds of thousands of people, while ensuring that the appropriate security checks were performed. That is simply stunning.
Here’s something else that I found interesting. Just yesterday, the Partnership for Public Service issued its rankings of the best places to work in the federal government in 2013. I was dismayed to find out that the Department of Homeland Security ranked last on their list of Cabinet Departments. However, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was one of the highest ranked components within DHS, coming in at 76 out 300. And when Alejandro Mayorkas took over in 2009, employee satisfaction with senior leadership increased by 21 percent.
We need more of that kind of proven and committed leadership at DHS.
Everything I have learned about Director Mayorkas over the past year has led me to conclude that he is an exceptional candidate to be the next Deputy Secretary at DHS.
But don’t just take my word for it. Director Mayorkas has received glowing accolades from a number of our colleagues who have worked closely with him. Among them are Senators Mary Landrieu, a valued member of this committee, and Dianne Feinstein, who recommended Director Mayorkas for his positions in both the Clinton and Obama Administrations.
We have also received dozens of letters from a distinguished, bipartisan group of individuals and organizations asking us to move forward with this nomination. I would like to take a little bit of time right now to share with you what some of these distinguished people have been saying about Director Mayorkas.
Among those writing on Director Mayorkas’ behalf are many individuals whom a lot of us deeply respect -- Jane Holl Lute, the former Deputy Secretary, and Richard Skinner, the last Senate-confirmed Department of Homeland Security Inspector General who was nominated by President George W. Bush.
I particularly value what Jane Holl Lute has to say, given that she has an unparalleled perspective on what it takes to be an effective Deputy Secretary—having been one herself. She said this about Director Mayorkas: “As I have come to know Ali, I can tell you that he asks no more of others than he does of himself, and, in leading by example, sets a standard of excellence for all who consider themselves commited to public service. In my view, Homeland Security could be in no better hands.”
That is what the last Deputy Secretary has to say about Director Mayorkas.
In one of two support letters Mr. Skinner sent our committee – including one earlier this month – he said of Director Mayokas: “During my tenure as Inspector General, Mr. Mayorkas demonstrated that he possessed the intellectual wherewithal to make objective and oftentimes very tough decisions on complex, multifaceted issues, and a genuine commitment to the mission, vision, and core values of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He is a strong leader who will be able to bring together diverse interests in collaborative efforts.”
The list of supporters for Director Mayorkas also includes other senior officials in the George W. Bush Administration such as Kenneth Wainstein, who was President Bush’s Homeland Security Advisor.
Here’s what Mr. Wainstein had to say: “Ali has consistently shown an exceptional ability to mobilize, manage, and lead people and organizations….as USCIS Director, he has effectively led a large and complex organization during a time of continuing change and challenge. His marked success in that difficult role is a stong predictor of his performance in the Deputy Secretary position.”
I could not agree more.
Those from the law enforcement community also laud Director Mayorkas’ leadership. For example, we received strong letters of support from the people charged with securing our borders during the George W. Bush Administration—Robert Bonner, Ralph Basham and Jason Ahern—who all served as Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection
Mr. Bonner wrote: “It is not merely his willingness to serve the public good that impels me to write this letter of support for his nomination, it is rather my firm belief that Ali has the experience, skills, talents, and plain old good judgment to be an effective Deputy Secretary, perhaps the best DHS has ever had.”
Mr. Basham wrote: “Mr. Mayorkas has already served the Department well and honorably in the role of Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. I also believe Mr. Mayorkas to be a public servant of integrity with a clear and distinguished track record of leadership.”-
And Mr. Ahern said: “it is my strong opinion that Director Mayorkas’ experience and leadership will be invaluable as DHS continue the work of protecting the homeland against threats of all kinds. As the Department of Homeland Security continues to mature, Alejandro Mayorkas is the right leader to continue that development and also meet the many critical mission challenges faced every day.”
So the three most senior border security officials who served under President George W. Bush all agree that Director Mayorkas would make an outstanding Deputy Secretary.
But it is not just former DHS officials who feel that way. Chuck Canterbury, the National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that Director Mayorkas’ “professionalism, leadership skills and integrity make him an ideal candidate for this post.”
All of these individuals who have worked closely with Director Mayorkas have spoken highly of him, citing his integrity, his commitment to excellence, and his tenacity.
In his confirmation hearing, Director Mayorkas said that his goal in life has always been to bring honor to his parents. His parents brought him to this country as a refugee from Cuba. They worked hard every day to give him the opportunity to go to school and make a better life for himself. Like them, he has worked hard all of his life.
I believe that he has brought great honor to his parents and to this country and would continue to do so as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
I urge all of my colleagues to support Alejandro Mayorkas.