Tracy A. Henke will begin a top federal homeland security job Monday under a swirl of controversy, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Henke, a former Missourian, will be managing the federal government’s coordination with state and local officials for natural disasters and terrorist attacks. The controversy involves the way she was named to the post, as well as her background and qualifications for the job. Supporters call her an extraordinarily hard-working and effective administrator. Some critics said she had little experience relevant to her new job; others questioned her role in a racial-profiling study last year that resulted in some discord within the Justice Department.
Henke’s recess appointment by President Bush was criticized by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Ct.) the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Henke, who turns 37 today, has been an acting assistant attorney general at the Justice Department. “The fact is you’re putting political loyalty above professional experience,” said P.J. Crowley, director of homeland security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank. “We’re at risk of seeing another Mike Brown,” a reference to the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Brown was fired after the poor federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Last year, a Justice Department study found that black and Hispanic motorists stopped for traffic violations were more likely than white motorists to be handcuffed, arrested, and face other sanctions. Henke decided that mentioning the apparent racial disparities in the department’s press release on the study would be misleading because it didn’t properly reflect the study’s findings.