By Shane Harris
March 7, 2006
The Bush administration has been excoriated for appointing politically
well-connected but professionally inexperienced people to important
positions at the Homeland Security Department.
A recent appointment may do little to quiet those complaints: The
department announced that a 28-year-old former White House staffer is
heading a policy committee that gathers expert advice -- on behalf of
the president and the Homeland Security secretary -- on key areas of
homeland security, including threats to infrastructure and preventing
terrorist attacks that use weapons of mass destruction.
Douglas L. Hoelscher is the new executive director of the Homeland
Security Advisory Committees and the "primary representative" of
department Secretary Michael Chertoff in dealing with more than 20
advisory boards. Among them is the Homeland Security Advisory Council,
which includes such high-powered figures as Gov. Mitt Romney of
Massachusetts, former Lockheed Chairman Norman Augustine, and former
Defense and Energy Secretary James Schlesinger.
Hoelscher has no management experience, a review of his professional
credentials shows. He came to government in 2001 as a low-level White
House staffer, arranging presidential travel, according to news
reports. He earned $30,000 a year, salary documents show.
A department statement said that Hoelscher will provide "strategic
counsel" to Chertoff and represent him before the committees. In so
doing, Hoelscher will be contending with formidable voices in U.S.
policy-making from the private sector, state and local government, and
Members of the boards are "titans in their fields," said Daniel
Ostergaard, Hoelscher's predecessor. At 34, Ostergaard is young, too,
but he is a former Coast Guard officer with two master's degrees, one
of them from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. One
group that Hoelscher will be coordinating with is the National
Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, which includes top
executives from BellSouth, Boeing, and Microsoft.
"The administration has named a qualified and talented professional to
cultivate these partnerships," Stewart A. Baker, Homeland Security's
assistant secretary for policy, said in a statement. "Doug will ...
increase overall coordination between department leadership and our
Homeland Security is reeling from a congressional report on its
botched Hurricane Katrina response, which found poor coordination
between the White House, the department, and the private sector.
Hoelscher declined to be interviewed for this article; a Homeland
Security spokeswoman said that he was on jury duty. But in a personal
profile that Hoelscher created for the Web site Friendster.com, he
offered some personal insights. He listed William Bennett's The Death
of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals among his
favorite books and wrote, "I'm usually fairly quiet in a group setting
-- I am not a talker but a pretty good listener."
Hoelscher launched his political career after graduating from the
University of Iowa in 1999. During the 2000 campaign, he worked for
Wisconsin's Republican Party, campaign finance records show. In 2001,
he was a political coordinator in the White House Office of Political
Affairs, which was run by Ken Mehlman, who was Bush's Midwest regional
political director in the 2000 campaign and is now the Republican
National Committee chairman. (Mehlman didn't respond to an interview
In 2004, Hoelscher worked for the RNC. The following year he became
Homeland Security's White House liaison, "obtaining information from
the department," said Joanna Gonzalez, a department spokeswoman.
During Katrina, he helped deploy volunteers from the department to the
Gulf Coast, she said. The congressional report on Katrina noted that
some of those employees had trouble making it to the region because of
Hoelscher also "made sure [that department political appointees] were
all placed in the office where they were happiest and ... fit best,"
Controversial political appointments at the department include Michael
Brown, the former FEMA director, who was a longtime friend of Bush's
2000 campaign director, Joe Allbaugh; Julie Myers, who's married to
Chertoff's chief of staff and heads the Immigration and Customs
Enforcement Bureau despite lacking law enforcement credentials; and
Eduardo Aguirre Jr., a career Texas banker with Bush family ties, who
was director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
One congressional staffer defended the appointment, noting that high
turnover plagues the department and that Hoelscher has performed well.
"He has been very proactive" in notifying Hill staffers of political
appointments, the staffer said. Acknowledging Hoelscher's youth and
limited experience, the staffer said that he wouldn't be left on his
own: "There's plenty of adult supervision" at the department.
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