She will become president, chief executive officer and director of the center Feb. 28, the trustees said in an announcement. Harman succeeds Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana.
"The center's nature provides the flexibility and access to leaders in government, industry and academia to promote a bipartisan, national dialogue on the day's most pressing foreign and domestic policy matters," Harman said.
Harman served in Congress from 1993 to 1999, left to run for governor of California and then won her seat back in 2000. She was known as a moderate Democrat, which sometimes put her at odds with fellow Californian, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Harman supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping. She serves on the Committee on Homeland Security.