APRIL 25, 2014
The inspector general in charge of investigating cases of wrongdoing at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) instead helped the massive agency cover up scandals and was tight with top officials under Obama’s first Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano.
Anyone familiar with the process of how these agency watchdogs are chosen shouldn’t be surprised. Congress created the office of inspector general more than three decades ago to fight waste, fraud and abuse inside government agencies. In all, 64 federal agencies have these watchdogs. Nearly half—the biggest and most important—are appointed by the president but they’re supposed to be totally independent of the agencies they are charged with overseeing.
It’s a deranged concept; presidentially-appointed cabinet members head many of the agencies that are then overseen by a politically-connected official who is also assigned by the commander-in-chief. It’s like a big club of power brokers pretending to keep each other in check for the good of the people. In most cases the public never hears about the huge problems with this unscrupulous arrangement, but this week a Senate oversight panel exposed the DHS Inspector General scandal after conducting a bipartisan probe that spanned a year.
It turns out that the DHS Inspector General, Charles K. Edwards, was really close with members of Napolitano’s inner staff and regularly communicated with them, according to the Senate findings. In fact, Edwards was drinking buddies with DHS brass and he often gave them inside information about his investigations. For his pals Edwards delayed and altered investigations at the request of senior Obama administration officials, which of course, means he was definitely not an independent investigator as federal law requires.
Edwards’ “frequent communications and personal friendships with senior DHS officials” jeopardized the independence of the Office of Inspector General (OIG), says the Senate report, published by the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight. One top aide said Edwards ordered changes, at the request of senior DHS officials, to a 2012 OIG report involving an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that identifies illegal immigrants. The probe focused on complaints that the Obama DHS purposely misled Congress and the public about local police requirements to participate in the initiative (Secure Communities).
Edwards also helped keep secret a damaging report questioning the effectiveness of a faulty Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening program at the request of a high-ranking DHS official. Edwards unnecessarily classified the findings as “Top Secret/Secure Compartmented Information” to keep it away from the public and most members of Congress. The TSA probe’s chief investigator, who worked under Edwards, complained that his boss clearly intended to “derail our report and minimize our findings.”
We will probably never the know the true magnitude of the cover-up, but the Senate report includes plenty of outrageous anecdotes and facts to support changing the process of assigning watchdogs to certain agencies, especially large and crucial ones like DHS. With 225,000 employees and an astounding $39 billion budget, it’s a beast that clearly needs oversight to keep it in check. In this case, Edwards served as interim DHS Inspector General for two years while he schmoozed Obama—and his political appointees—to give him the post permanently.
The only reason this scandal came to light is because the two ranking senators—a Democrat and a Republican—on the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight launched a probe after examining another disgraceful transgression relating to Secret Service agents hiring prostitutes during a 2012 presidential trip to Colombia. Insiders came forward with shocking information about the DHS IG ordering the removal of damaging information about the Secret Service and evidence implicating a White House staff member. That opened a Pandora’s Box of insiders coming forward to denounce other alterations and postponements on other investigations.
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