Former Homeland Security Secretary Shares His Perspective On The Shutdown
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Stressed air traffic controllers, too few IRS workers, possible cybersecurity breaches - a chorus of voices, including from the FBI, warned that the U.S. government shutdown posed a threat to this nation's security. So how much damage was done? How long will it take to repair? Michael Chertoff was secretary of Homeland Security under George W. Bush, and earlier this week, he was one of several former secretaries who wrote President Trump in Congress to urge an end to the shutdown. He joins us on the line. Mr. Chertoff, thanks so much for being with us.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Good to be on.
SIMON: How harmful was the shutdown in your estimation?
CHERTOFF: Well, I think it was very difficult for the people involved, both in terms of their financial situation and in terms of their morale. Happily, we didn't see any events that took advantage of the shutdown. But I think people were still going to be nervous because this is only a temporary extension. And what we need to do is reassure the front-line soldiers, Coast Guardsmen, Border Patrol officials, that they're going to be supported and not be in an up-and-down situation.
SIMON: I have to ask, Mr. Chertoff, because, as you mentioned, there might be another shutdown on the horizon in just three weeks. Government security agencies rely on long-term, nonpolitical employees to create a truly civil service. Are you concerned that the effect of all these shutdowns are going to discourage a lot of people from working for the U.S. government?
CHERTOFF: I certainly think there's a risk that when young people are looking at a career, the attractiveness of working for the government and doing public service will be diminished if they feel that they're becoming footballs for political actors or if they feel that there's no job security in turn for their public service. So, yes, this is not a helpful element in the picture that recruiters like to portray to folks who are entering the workforce.
SIMON: Is there a lot of catch up that has to be done now in various government security departments because they haven't been at work for a month on investigations and other security procedures?
CHERTOFF: I think what you'll see with the investigators, again, is that they will have to catch up. They'll have put their pencils down unless they were essential employees. Now they have to pick them up. They have to catch up to where they were. There will have been some lost time. There will be perhaps some leads that they were going to pursue that have gone cold. So I do expect there'll be some catch up. I don't think it's going to be overwhelming. But certainly, it's going to add to a level of inefficiency.
SIMON: But you seem to be suggesting that you just don't turn the key on Monday and pick up where you left off.
CHERTOFF: Well, that's right. I mean, if, for example, you were following the trail of something that you're investigating or examining, events have moved in the last three or four weeks. So now you've got to catch up not only to what you were doing before you had to leave your job, but you've got to see what's occurred in the interim. And that simply takes more time and adds more complexity to your task.
SIMON: The president again suggested that if Congress doesn't approve funding for a wall, he might call a national emergency and invoke executive powers - forgive me - to build that wall. In your estimation, Mr. Chertoff, is that wise? Is it a matter of national security?
CHERTOFF: Well, there'll be some elements of border security that are fairly described as national security, but that's a very broad term. I think to declare an emergency, there are certain legal requirements. I'm not a legal scholar in this area, but they're going to need to make sure that they have a valid legal basis to use funds that were allocated for something else and to move them over into the border security area. That's wholly apart from the question of whether building a wall is anything other than a waste of money.
SIMON: Michael Chertoff, former Homeland Security secretary, is executive director of The Chertoff Group. Thanks so much for being with us.
CHERTOFF: Good to be on.
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