Holding the Government Accountable

All Along the Watchtower: One Year Anniversary of DHS Inspector General Vacancy

As of today, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General (IG) has been vacant for exactly one year. The position became vacant when Richard Skinner retired after 42 years of service in the federal government.

The Obama administration acted quickly to nominate Roslyn A. Mazer for the position in July 2011.

Mazer was thought by many to be a qualified candidate. An attorney by training, Mazer spent much of her career in the IG community. After serving for seven years in the Oversight & Review Division of the Department of Justice OIG, Mazer was appointed IG of the Office of the Director for National Intelligence (ODNI IG) in 2009.

Mazer’s work outside of the IG context, as the first chair of the Interagency Security Classification Appeals, has drawn praise from the government oversight community. Steve Aftergood, the Director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, called the Panel one of the “most successful classification reform initiatives of the last half century.”

Speaking of Mazer’s nomination, he added: “At a time when agency Inspectors General may be asked to assume greater oversight over classification policy, she brings an exceptional depth of knowledge and experience to the subject.”

But despite Mazer’s apparent qualifications, her confirmation vote was delayed at the request of the White House after Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced she would oppose the nomination and that other GOP senators would as well, according to a December article in Congressional Quarterly.

As reported by CQ, Collins’ opposition was based on letters she had received from two of Mazer’s top deputies at the ODNI OIG. The letters raised concerns about Mazer’s management style, with one describing her leadership as “directive, controlling, stifling, without focus—and to me exemplified a form of mental abuse.” Mazer has rejected those charges and pointed to the “many meaty and significant reports” produced during her tenure as ODNI IG.

It’s unclear whether opposition in the Senate will cause the Obama administration to withdraw Mazer as the nominee, but her confirmation process shows how a long-term vacancy can exist at an IG even when the President and the Senate take their responsibilities seriously. The Obama administration quickly nominated a candidate that was widely believed to be highly qualified for the position. And the Senate vetted that candidate to ensure she was indeed qualified for such an important job. But in this case, issues uncovered during that vetting process raised concerns that were serious enough to cause a number of Senators to oppose the nomination.

Now that the nomination has been put on hold, all parties need to quickly figure out whether or not they're going to go ahead with Mazer's nomination or get a new candidate. Each day that passes means there's one more day without robust oversight of the TSA, FEMA, and billions upon billions of dollars in DHS contracts and grants.