By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Homeland Security and some Capitol Hill Democrats are working to find good news in a devastating internal audit of the government’s largest agency.
Senate Homeland Security Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., called a new Inspector General audit “a milestone for the Department of Homeland Security and represents an important step in helping the department be a responsible steward of taxpayer funds.”
Others say the report is nothing to cheer about. And with acting IG Charles Edwards abruptly resigning on Tuesday, the audit’s credibility is in question.
Edwards stepped down amid ongoing questions about his performance.
While Carper asserts the DHS received a “clean financial audit,” the IG report leveled numerous criticisms at the sprawling agency.
Auditors accused DHS of “struggling to fully integrate” its 22 different branches, including the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The audit said the agencies have failed to communicate and don’t work well together, wasting millions of taxpayers dollars and putting the nation’s borders at risk, the Washington Times reported.
In a slap at former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – now chief of the University of California system — the audit “determined that DHS did not establish an effective governing structure.”
The IG’s office found large gaps in DHS’ own cyber-security programs.
Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said the agency’s systems lacked “some of the most basic protections that would be obvious to any 13-year-old with a laptop.”
“DHS doesn’t use strong authentication. It relies on antiquated software that’s full of holes. Its components don’t report security incidents when they should. They don’t keep track of weaknesses when they’re found, and they don’t fix them in time to make a difference,” Coburn said.
David North, a policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, suggested the report could have been more damning if the IG’s leadership weren’t under a cloud of controversy itself.
North noted that Edwards had been under fire from lawmakers of both parties for “whistleblower allegations of nepotism and abuse of power.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said last week he intends to look into what he calls “corruption” in the IG’s office.
President Barack Obama last week nominated John Roth to head DHS’ Office of Inspector General. Roth is a supervising investigator with the Food and Drug Administration, a much smaller agency.
North said any incoming IG will face an “immediate challenge (of what to) do with the investigation that Edwards started against Alejandro Mayorkas, the incumbent USCIS director and the person nominated by Obama to be deputy secretary of DHS.”
“Edwards and Mayorkas have been at loggerheads over the acting IG’s charges that USCIS staff had been pressured to say ‘yes’ to immigration petitions, including some questionable ones,” North said.
Carper and fellow committee Democrats, who unanimously advanced Mayorkas’ nomination to the full Senate last week, appear eager to push Roth through, too.
As with Mayorkas and incoming DHS Secretary Jeh “Jay” Johnson, Carper indicated he’s ready to vet and approve the IG nominee — with or without bipartisan backing.
“Inspectors general lead offices that are an essential component of good government, providing oversight and insight that can help improve how our government operates. This job is especially critical at the Department of Homeland Security, given its size, complexity and mission to provide for our nation’s security,” Carper said.
“That’s why it is important to have a permanent, Senate-confirmed leader in place to ensure that the office has the authority and direction needed to conduct comprehensive investigations and audits.”
The Inspector General office’s investigation into actions by Mayorkas and USCIS are ongoing.
Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for Watchdog.org and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward