Sweeping Reform Dire for Homeland Security Watchdog, GAO Says

  • GAO recommends 21 changes for DHS watchdog
  • Bipartisan House leaders commissioned the report

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The Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog must reform its organizational structure after a series of blunders in recent years resulted in professional misconduct and low-quality work, the U.S. government’s own watchdog found.

“Without addressing these and other long-standing management and operational weaknesses, DHS OIG is not well positioned to fulfill its oversight mission,” the Government Accountability Office said in its report on Thursday.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on May 26, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

The Office of Inspector General is the watchdog for an agency focused on security issues across a range of areas, including border, cyber, and transportation, and manages a roughly $50 billion annual budget. In recent years, it has led investigations of families separated at the border, the outlay of disaster relief funds, and the federal law enforcement response to protests in Oregon.

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The report follows a series of concerns fielded by leaders on the House Homeland Security Committee.

“The committee has received several complaints from OIG employees about management of the office,” Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said during an April hearing. Poor management “has resulted in decisions that are arbitrary, show favoritism or bias, rigmarole and negatively affect operations,” he said at the time.

The Office of Inspector General said it agreed with all the recommendations, and committed to implementing them.

“As a critical oversight entity, DHS OIG has made great strides over the past almost two years. Our productivity is high as is the quality of our work,” Inspector General Joseph Cuffari said in a statement.

Dysfunctional Leadership

After reviewing five years’ worth of documents, the GAO released 21 recommendations to address concerns.

Recommendations include developing a comprehensive strategic plan, cultivating processes for retaining leadership, ensuring regular staff training, clarifying the responsibilities of individual divisions, and implementing a quality assurance program.

In a preliminary April report, theGAO found the inspector general’s office had a history of dysfunctional leadership—including officers who “elevated individual interests over those of the public”—and a revolving door of inspectors general, with four over the last six years.

The review also found that the office didn’t have a standard for pursuing investigations, and has taken a longer time to complete reports over the last several years.

Thompson and House Homeland Security ranking member John Katko (R-N.Y.) requested the report, as well as House Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and ranking member James Comer (R-Ky.).

“GAO has presented clear evidence that the failure to address long-standing weaknesses has impacted the quality and timeliness of the OIG’s work, and has resulted in arbitrary decision-making leading to diminished morale and complaints of leadership favoritism,” the bipartisan group said in a press release.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Sadek in Washington at nsadek@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com; Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com

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