In 2007, Chertoff established an Administration Transition Task Force to deal with the change of presidential administrations. After the election, he said, "We are in the process of planning for the kinds of emergencies that might most likely beset the new administration after Jan. 20," which is Inauguration Day.
"Briefing books will be completed in the next few days," Chertoff said. "And it's my hope ... that the new folks coming into the leadership positions will sit with us either late this year or early next year to go through some kind of tabletop instructional course on incident management so that if something were to happen in the month or two after the new president gets on board, they would be as prepared as the reasonably can be, based on training."
Among the concerns for senior officials during the transition is an elevated risk of terrorist attack. Since late summer, the government has been operating in a period of heightened alert. Chertoff said after the election that there is no credible intelligence of an imminent threat to the United States, but that DHS officials and analysts continue to review intelligence reports and review potential threats.
"We've actually kind of looked at this as a period of heightened alert where we have put into effect some additional measures to just make sure we're really scrubbing all the intelligence," he said. "We are looking very carefully at anything that might be a vulnerability. ... This is about making sure that we are extra focused during a period of change, which is, naturally, one in which sometimes there is an element of distraction."
Although there is no credible intelligence at this time, analysts have noted that the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing occurred in the first few months of new administrations. Also, the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the 2007 car bomb plots in the United Kingdom took place during times of transition. In recent days, there have also been renewed terrorism concerns about potential plots in the United Kingdom and renewed claims by individuals with links to al Qaeda that terrorist cells are planning new attacks against the United States.
"It's not inconceivable that there are some major plots out there that come to light in the transition," Rojansky of the Partnership for a Secure America said.
Aside from immediate concerns about attacks, DHS will also be dealing with immigration and border security.
As the governor of a border state, Napolitano touts her actions as the first governor to ask for the National Guard to be posted at the U.S-Mexico border. She also called for federal funding to cover the move.
While the issue was barely discussed during the presidential campaign, the Obama camp has taken a position that, according to the campaign's Web site, supports "a system that requires undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens."
Aside from immigration as a leading policy issue, the next secretary will also have to deal with information-sharing as a continuing challenge, as the agency continues to evolve and build a more robust response to natural disasters such as hurricanes.