Last week the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General position was finally filled after being vacant for over three years.
John Roth was confirmed by the Senate on March 6, 2014, 136 days after he was nominated and 1134 days since the position was first vacated by Richard Skinner in February 2011. Since 2011 the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has struggled to find a capable leader, and it provides an excellent example of why permanent and vetted Inspectors General are so vital to government agencies.
Initially the Obama Administration acted quickly to fill this position, nominating Roslyn A. Mazer in July 2011. Although at first Mazer seemed like a perfect fit due to her extensive history in the IG community, serious questions were raised during her Senate confirmation process. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), then-ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led the opposition based on letters she had received from past employees of Mazer at the Office of the Director for National Intelligence OIG. These letters harshly criticized Mazer’s leadership, and ultimately the White House withdrew her nomination in 2012.
This left Charles Edwards as the Acting Inspector General for the agency, a position he had assumed when Skinner stepped down and continued to hold through Mazer’s confirmation process. Unfortunately Edwards would demonstrate during the three years he spent in charge why permanent Inspectors General, who are so thoroughly vetted by both the President and the Senate, are so important.
As the Project On Government Oversight highlighted in our recent report on Inspectors General, during his time as Acting IG, Edwards was allegedly:
Requiring members of his staff to drive him and his wife around on personal errands. Using government personnel to help him write his Ph.D. dissertation. Employing his wife in a U.S. government job within his own office, and letting her telework for seven months while she was in India. Retaliating against employees who challenged his conduct.
Several whistleblowers reported these alleged abuses to the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, prompting Chairman Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Ranking Member Ron Johnson (R-WI) to write a letter to Edwards in June 2013 requesting his response to the allegations raised. When Edwards failed to provide an adequate response by October, the Senators sent another letter demanding his cooperation with their investigation.
Less than one month later John Roth was nominated for the Inspector General position and on December 16, 2013, Edwards resigned, just days before he was to appear before Senators McCaskill and Johnson, and others, at a subcommittee hearing.
Both Johnson and McCaskill were pleased with Roth’s nomination and policymakers across parties applauded the President for beginning the process toward a permanent IG for the agency. As POGO has highlighted many times before, permanent IGs are vital to a well-functioning agency and we hope that Roth will be a strong investigative leader for the office. The Department of Homeland Security oversees literally trillions of dollars in grants, contracts, and programs such as FEMA and TSA. Now, finally, these projects will have the robust oversight they deserve and require from an independent watchdog.