Chad F. Wolf is the acting Secretary of Homeland Security and Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Strategy, Policy, and Plans. He previously served in several positions in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including as Chief of Staff of the Transportation Security Administration and Chief of Staff to DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. He was an architect of the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
From 2005 to 2016, he was a lobbyist, helping clients to secure contracts from the Transportation Security Administration, his previous employer.
Education and early career
Wolf is originally from Plano, Texas. He graduated from Plano East Senior High School and then attended Collin College on a tennis scholarship. Wolf then earned a B.S. in U.S. history from Southern Methodist University.
He worked as a staffer for Republican Senators Phil Gramm, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and then Chuck Hagel, for whom he worked for two and a half years. From 2002 to 2005, Wolf worked in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), becoming Assistant Administrator for Transportation Security Policy in 2005. From October 2005 to 2016, he was Vice President and Senior Director at Wexler & Walker, a now-defunct lobbying firm. He helped clients obtain contracts from the TSA, his previous employer.
In 2013 he received a Master Certificate in Government Contract Management from Villanova University.
Return to Department of Homeland Security
In March 2017 Wolf became Chief of Staff of the Transportation Security Administration.
In 2018 he became Chief of Staff of DHS under Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. While working for Nielsen, he was an early architect of the family separation policy. He later testified to Congress that his function was to provide information to the Secretary and “not to determine whether it was the right or wrong policy,” though he agreed with the decision to end the policy. He also testified that he was not involved in the initial development of the policy by the Executive Office of the President and the Attorney General, though this statement was disputed based on internal documents.
He then became Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Strategy, Plans, Analysis & Risk, a Senior Executive Service position not subject to Senate confirmation. He concurrently served as Acting Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Strategy, Policy, and Plans. He was nominated in February 2019 to serve permanently in the Under Secretary role, and his confirmation hearing was held that June, but the nomination was delayed by Senator Jacky Rosen to protest poor conditions for children at DHS facilities.
Wolf’s appointment as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security came after the departure of Kevin McAleenan was announced on November 1, 2019. The fact that he had previously lobbied for the National Association of Software and Services Companies, which was in favor of the H-1B visa program, led to criticism from groups favoring more restrictive immigration policies, but the Trump administration defended his record and privately asked Republican senators not to oppose his appointment.
The administration waited for Wolf’s confirmation as Under Secretary before appointing him to the Acting Secretary role, to avoid appointing him as a principal officer from a non-Senate-confirmed position, which many scholars and former government officials have argued is unconstitutional. DHS then had to move the Under Secretary position earlier in the line of succession, because the 210-day period in which an acting official may be named without a pending permanent nomination had expired, mandating that the duties of the Secretary must be performed by the department’s seniormost confirmed official.
Wolf was confirmed as Under Secretary on November 13, 2019 on a 54–41 vote, and was sworn in as acting Secretary of Homeland Security the same day. On November 15, House Democrats Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney requested that the Comptroller General of the United States review the legality of Wolf’s appointment on the basis that former Acting Secretary McAleenan did not have authority to change the department’s line of succession, asserting that former Secretary Nielsen had not properly placed McAleenan first in the line of succession before resigning, and additionally that McAleenan’s change came after the 210-day limit to his authority had expired.
In February 2020, Wolf announced that the Trump administration was revoking New York residents’ ability to participate in Global Entry and other Trusted Traveler programs, in response to the state’s “sanctuary” immigration policies, which jeopardized the government’s ability to effectively vet travelers. The move prompted the State of New York to sue the administration.
In July 2020, Wolf sent federal agents dressed in camouflage and tactical gear to Portland, Oregon, where the agents used tear gas on protestors and pulled protestors into unmarked vehicles. The agents did not have obvious marking or identification. In the past, far-right militias had worn camouflage and tactical gear in clashes with other protestors in Portland, which sowed confusion. Oregon Governor Kate Brown described the action as “abuse of power,” and accused Wolf of “provoking confrontation for political purposes.” Portland mayor Ted Wheeler said it was “an attack on our democracy.” Wolf said the protestors were a “violent mob” and “violent anarchists.” The New York Times reported that an internal DHS memo had been presented to Wolf which said prior to the deployment that the federal agents in question had not been specifically trained in riot control or mass demonstrations.
Wolf is married and has two sons.