Janet Napolitano, the country's first female secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, is resigning her post to become president of the University of California system, the White House confirmed Friday.
According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, the former Arizona governor was picked through a covert selection process and will be the college system's first female president.
"While some may consider her to be an unconventional choice, Secretary Napolitano is without a doubt the right person at the right time to lead this incredible university," said Sherry Lansing, regent of the university system and a former Hollywood executive who headed the search committee, in a statement, according to the LA Times. "She will bring fresh eyes and a new sensibility – not only to UC, but to all of California. She will stand as a vigorous advocate for faculty, students and staff at a time when great changes in our state, and across the globe, are presenting as many opportunities as challenges."
Napolitano presided over the agency charged with enforcing immigration laws and overseeing federal emergency aid for natural disasters, as well as preventing terrorism in the United States, which was formed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans. The massive agency has nearly 250,000 employees and a $60 billion budget, according to the LA Times.
President Barack Obama said Friday Napolitano had done an exemplary job during her tenure.
"Since day one, Janet has led my administration's effort to secure our borders, deploying a historic number of resources, while also taking steps to make our immigration system fairer and more consistent with our values," he said in a release. "And the American people are safer and more secure thanks to Janet's leadership in protecting our homeland against terrorist attacks. I've come to rely on Janet's judgment and advice, but I've also come to value her friendship."
Napolitano has been criticized by some on the left for the zealous manner in which she enforced immigration laws, presiding over the highest number of deportations in recent memory. But she also was mocked by conservatives who labeled her "Big Sis" and has been a target since her time as Anita Hill's lawyer in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative.
The 55-year-old is unmarried with no children and underwent a double-mastectomy for breast cancer in 2000. Napolitano is sometimes mentioned as a potential Supreme Court justice or presidential nominee.