Paul Rosen, chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Paul Rosen, chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Diego M. Radzinschi/ ALM Media)

One afternoon last year, Paul Rosen picked up his phone to hear the latest alert out of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s operations center.

As the deputy chief of staff at Homeland Security then, Rosen was accustomed to answering such calls with a series of questions—fact-finding that would lead to the chief of staff’s contact with Secretary Jeh Johnson. On that afternoon in April, when he learned a homemade flying object had just landed on the U.S. Capitol lawn, that process began with a question repeated all the way up the chain: What the heck is a gyrocopter?

“I googled it, saw a picture of what looked like a crudely put together flying device,” Rosen recalled in a recent interview with The National Law Journal. “And so, my job was to make sure the people who needed to know knew that.”

Rosen’s path to Homeland Security’s front office began a decade ago—stepping from Capitol Hill to Main Justice and, now, serving as the chief of staff to Johnson, a former Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison partner who’s led the agency since 2013.

Reflecting on his 10 years in government service, Rosen, 37, spoke about the “unplanned trajectory” of his career and how his background in the law, even in a managerial role, has played into the agency’s decisions.

After graduating from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in 2005, Rosen clerked for U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess in California. There, Rosen fielded a couple offers from firms in Los Angeles. A former colleague from his days on the Hill told him about a counsel position on then-Sen. Joe Biden’s Judiciary Committee.

“I just serendipitously ended up in Joe Biden’s office,” Rosen said. “I have really just seized unique opportunities as they’ve come up and haven’t relied on any sort of preplanned trajectory. That took me unexpectedly back to Washington after my clerkship.”

After Biden’s election to the vice presidency, Rosen moved to the U.S. Justice Department, first prosecuting drug and gun cases in the Eastern District of Virginia and then, at Main Justice in the fraud section, bringing securities and financial fraud cases. In 2013, Rosen left for Homeland Security, to become chief of staff at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It wasn’t something I was looking for, but it was another one of those unique opportunities,” Rosen said.

The job elevated him from day-in-day-out practice of law to a management role. And it exposed him to the team working under Johnson, who eventually asked Rosen to join his staff.

As Johnson’s chief of staff, Rosen’s grapples with issues such as immigration, intellectual property and smuggling. From the front office, Rosen helps manage an agency with 225,000 personnel, advising Johnson on broad policy issues that include litigation, counterterrorism and cybersecurity.

One of the department’s primary roles, Rosen said, is determining who can enter the United States. With a rarity of “black-and-white answers,” he said, the department often confronts legal questions such as whether to place someone on the no-fly list.

Homeland Security increasingly has been forced to navigate various countries’ privacy laws as it seeks to step up information sharing, Rosen said. From questions about airline passenger information to law enforcement access to digital records and evidence, DHS often finds itself in the middle of discussions over how to balance security with privacy, Rosen said.

“In the wake of [the attacks in] France and Belgium, there’s an increasing motivation to engage on these issues, particularly as we see the refugee crisis out of Turkey and Syria into Europe,” he said.

Rosen arrives at work at 5 or 6 a.m. each morning. Sleep, sometimes interrupted by a call from the operations center, is a rare commodity. “That’s what coffee is for and that’s what the weekends are for—sometimes,” he said.

As the Obama administration winds down, Rosen, a California native, said he sees an end of government service in sight.

“I’ve been saying every year I’m going to go back west,” said Rosen, who keeps a Los Angeles Dodgers hat in his office. “That will happen one day.”

One afternoon last year, Paul Rosen picked up his phone to hear the latest alert out of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s operations center.

As the deputy chief of staff at Homeland Security then, Rosen was accustomed to answering such calls with a series of questions—fact-finding that would lead to the chief of staff’s contact with Secretary Jeh Johnson. On that afternoon in April, when he learned a homemade flying object had just landed on the U.S. Capitol lawn, that process began with a question repeated all the way up the chain: What the heck is a gyrocopter?

“I googled it, saw a picture of what looked like a crudely put together flying device,” Rosen recalled in a recent interview with The National Law Journal. “And so, my job was to make sure the people who needed to know knew that.”

Rosen’s path to Homeland Security’s front office began a decade ago—stepping from Capitol Hill to Main Justice and, now, serving as the chief of staff to Johnson, a former Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison partner who’s led the agency since 2013.

Reflecting on his 10 years in government service, Rosen, 37, spoke about the “unplanned trajectory” of his career and how his background in the law, even in a managerial role, has played into the agency’s decisions.

After graduating from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in 2005, Rosen clerked for U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess in California. There, Rosen fielded a couple offers from firms in Los Angeles. A former colleague from his days on the Hill told him about a counsel position on then-Sen. Joe Biden’s Judiciary Committee.

“I just serendipitously ended up in Joe Biden’s office,” Rosen said. “I have really just seized unique opportunities as they’ve come up and haven’t relied on any sort of preplanned trajectory. That took me unexpectedly back to Washington after my clerkship.”

After Biden’s election to the vice presidency, Rosen moved to the U.S. Justice Department, first prosecuting drug and gun cases in the Eastern District of Virginia and then, at Main Justice in the fraud section, bringing securities and financial fraud cases. In 2013, Rosen left for Homeland Security, to become chief of staff at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It wasn’t something I was looking for, but it was another one of those unique opportunities,” Rosen said.

The job elevated him from day-in-day-out practice of law to a management role. And it exposed him to the team working under Johnson, who eventually asked Rosen to join his staff.

As Johnson’s chief of staff, Rosen’s grapples with issues such as immigration, intellectual property and smuggling. From the front office, Rosen helps manage an agency with 225,000 personnel, advising Johnson on broad policy issues that include litigation, counterterrorism and cybersecurity.

One of the department’s primary roles, Rosen said, is determining who can enter the United States. With a rarity of “black-and-white answers,” he said, the department often confronts legal questions such as whether to place someone on the no-fly list.

Homeland Security increasingly has been forced to navigate various countries’ privacy laws as it seeks to step up information sharing, Rosen said. From questions about airline passenger information to law enforcement access to digital records and evidence, DHS often finds itself in the middle of discussions over how to balance security with privacy, Rosen said.

“In the wake of [the attacks in] France and Belgium, there’s an increasing motivation to engage on these issues, particularly as we see the refugee crisis out of Turkey and Syria into Europe,” he said.

Rosen arrives at work at 5 or 6 a.m. each morning. Sleep, sometimes interrupted by a call from the operations center, is a rare commodity. “That’s what coffee is for and that’s what the weekends are for—sometimes,” he said.

As the Obama administration winds down, Rosen, a California native, said he sees an end of government service in sight.

“I’ve been saying every year I’m going to go back west,” said Rosen, who keeps a Los Angeles Dodgers hat in his office. “That will happen one day.”