Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate panel today that the threat from violent Islamic extremists is openly discussed "every day" within the administration and considered "part and parcel" of both the Ft. Hood shooting and attempted Christmas Day bombing last year.
Napolitano defended her leadership of the department tasked with keeping Americans safe and asked lawmakers for "the right resources" to improve some of the challenges it faced in her first year.
The Department of Homeland Security is seeking a 2 percent increase to its $55.1 billion budget for 2011 to hire more security officers and acquire new technologies, among other initiatives.
Ahead of today's meeting, lawmakers expressed concern about the agency's size, heavy reliance on contract workers and ever-growing expenses.
The former Arizona governor, dubbed "Big Sis" by the Drudge Report and other news outlets, oversees more than 188,000 civilian employees, 200,000 contractors and an amalgam of 20 sub-agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration.
All told, the Department is the second largest combined work force behind the Department of Defense, and it's still growing amid concerns about its costly bloat.
Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Susan Collins, R-Maine, wrote to Napolitano Tuesday, calling the size of the agency's work force "unacceptable, untenable and unsustainable."
Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler told ABC News Napolitano would reiterate a commitment to "decreasing the department's reliance on contractors and strengthening the federal work force at DHS."
But the enormity of the nation's youngest, Cabinet-level department is just one of many challenges that Napolitano, the third chief and first woman in the role, has had to face in the past year.
"Very few departments in the U.S. government have to worry about preparedness at the federal level, assist state and local governments and help the individual be prepared against threats," said Rick "Ozzie" Nelson, director of the homeland security and counterterrorism program at the bipartisan, nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Napolitano has a very good background to do this."
Supporters have described her as an unrelenting strategist who's always trying to stay ahead of the game, an important trait for someone tasked with keeping up with evolving threats.
"She is always thinking about something you haven't thought about yet and is two or three plays ahead of you," former spokeswoman for the Arizona Gov. Jeanine L'ecuyer told ABC News. "She is thinking about the bigger picture."
Many of the threats Napolitano faced this past year, including two attempted terror attacks, have been new and evolving. When she took office there was not as great an urgency to police cyberspace and the borders, screen airline passengers' bags and their undergarments, prepare Americans for an H1N1 flu epidemic. and natural disasters spurred by climate change, among others.
But her tenure hasn't always been without its bumps in the road.
Napolitano raised eyebrows Sunday when she told a meeting of the National Governors' Association that homegrown extremists are now as pressing a worry as international terrorists.