You are here

Remarkable Mission... Remarkable People.

myDHS: Ep. 4. Daniel Sutherland, DHS Office of General Counsel. U.S. Department of Homeland Security Seal.
Podcast Series: 

Daniel Sutherland, DHS Associate General Counsel, shares his story of the early days in the Department working alongside DHS Secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff.


Please welcome to the stage, Associate General Counsel Daniel Sutherland, Office of General Counsel, DHS Headquarters. Thank you. If I could summarize my experience at the Department here in one sentence, it would be this: “DHS is unique because of the remarkable mission being carried out by remarkable people.” In April 8, 2003, I walked into this building upstairs to go to new employee orientation at something called the Department of Homeland Security. I had no idea that 15 years later, I'd be standing here in the same building in front of you talking about these issues. I served as the first Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties here at the Department for Secretaries Ridge and Chertoff. They're still enthusiastic. I left and a few years later, there was a job posting for a really great job in the Office of the General Counsel here at the Department. So I called a friend who is here to ask him whether he thought I should apply for the job, and he said “yes, you definitely should.” He told me that he'd been observing me over the last couple of years in different settings, and he said to me, “you have DHS in your blood” and I smiled. He hit the nail on the head. This place really does get into your blood. You meet some of the most amazing people, some most remarkable people just walking the halls of the NAC. Two of the lawyers I worked with were engaged in Fallujah, another was severely injured in a roadside bombing outside Baghdad. One of my colleagues is a world champion rower, a world champion. When I met with Border Patrol agents here in this building about a particularly sensitive and complex subject, I found some of the most thoughtful people imaginable. We had the best Deaf attorney in the entire country working for us. Secretary Ridge liked her so much, he took her to meet President Bush and Secretary Chertoff liked her so much he gave a gold medal after Hurricane Katrina. I remember a couple seek of TSA screeners who flew in to headquarters on a 30 day detail helping design some of those new security protocols after some of the events that you talked about. I could go on and on. I had to strike about 17 more sentences about just the remarkable people that I've met I think a couple of stories about Secretaries Ridge and Chertoff help illustrate my point about remarkable people and remarkable mission. My first meeting with Secretary Chertoff was here in this building. CRCL, which I was leading at that time, planned for weeks, as you might imagine, leading up to this first briefing with a new Cabinet Secretary. Our meeting lasted 7 minutes. Why did our meeting last seven minutes? Well, I think as Secretary Nielsen could testify, those first few days are quite a whirlwind and he simply was called away to do other things. But the second reason, it was so short is, that's all I needed in those 7 days in that 7 minutes. I walked out with a month's worth of work. He had answers to my questions, direction for the future, and how the next several weeks would play out. He processed everything I had to say and integrated it into his agenda, where he was going all in 7 minutes. When you were around, Secretary Chertoff, you always wanted to do your best to live up the excellence that he displayed. And it's not just Secretary Chertoff, that's been my experience with my colleagues around the Department. All the time you want to do your best because you're around these great people. Secretary Chertoff and I ended up going to mosque together, debating college students about their misperceptions for our border policies and we did classified briefings up on the Hill about an issue back then. That was called, maybe you've heard it, cyber security. It had just come on the scene. You can see in that one short sentence, just a breadth of the remarkable mission here. I think of memory of Secretary Ridge will also help illuminate my point. In 2003 I was sitting at home one night having dinner with my wife and three little boys. Secretary Ridge, one of those little boys who you will remember, I think is now an analyst at I&A. Yes! Well, my Blackberry rang and I answered the phone and I heard: “Dan, this is Tom Ridge. Do you have a minute?” “Yes, I could carve out a minute.” I made – I tried to silence the hordes at the dinner table and may have a pretense of calm and order as I just talked to him. Secretary Ridge said to me, “Dan, as I look around at our headquarters, I don't see anyone with a disability. We don't have any employees in wheelchairs or anyone who is blind or deaf. We can do better, don't you think? I need you to put together a plan for me to bring in people with disabilities into this Department.” This is a good man. [Applause] All of the things that they were talking about, they were on his mind and that was on his mind that night to call and direct that there was something different done. His intellect and heart and energy and commitment to doing the right thing just drove all of us. Remarkable people, carrying out a remarkable mission. I've talked about two leaders but it typifies our whole workforce and the people I've had the joy to interact with these 15 years. Thank you. [Applause]
Back to Top