WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Gil Kerlikowske on Thursday to be the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, allowing the White House "drug czar" to take on his new post overseeing the Border Patrol.
Kerlikowske came to the White House as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the job commonly known as “drug czar,” after serving as chief of police in Seattle from 2001 to 2009.
He will take over an organization under fire on several fronts, including secrecy surrounding incidents in which agents shot people suspected of throwing rocks at them from the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border. Lawmakers have criticized Customs and Border Protection officials for not fully disclosing when border agents are allowed to use deadly force, and what disciplinary actions, if any, have been taken against agents who violated existing policies.
During his confirmation hearing Jan. 15, Kerlikowske promised that if confirmed he would make the agency more transparent.
“I have not been in a law enforcement agency in which the specifics of the use of force were not made available ... to the general public, and I would work very hard to see that that is done” with the Border Patrol, Kerlikowske told the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees the customs functions of the department, which will also be under his purview.
He said that being clear about when law enforcement officers can and can’t use force is “critical” to earning the trust of the public.
“If you don't have the trust and the cooperation of the people you serve, and they don't understand or they're not knowledgeable of your policies, it makes that trust and cooperation very difficult,” he said.
The Senate approved Kerlikowske by a voice vote. His approval marks the first time the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection post has been filled by the Senate since 2011. The department had been run since by officials serving in an acting capacity.
The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), called Kerlikowske an “excellent choice.”
“His breadth of experience in law enforcement and drug policy prepare him well to take on this role,” Carper said.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy group based in Washington, said in a statement that the organization hoped Kerlikowske “will bring additional transparency to Customs and Border Protection, especially when it comes to the agency’s use-of-force policy.”
Also on Thursday, the Senate confirmed John Roth to be the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security. Roth recently served as the director of the Office of Criminal Investigations at the Food and Drug Administration.