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The Bridge: Not His First Rodeo

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Setting the stage

The Department of Homeland Security has more than a quarter-million employees and holds 22 components, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the country’s largest law enforcement agency, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency notorious for human rights violations and abuses in its detention centers. The DHS is also responsible for protecting our nation’s leaders (through the Secret Service), aviation security (through the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA), cybersecurity, and disaster response. With such varied and sweeping responsibilities, the job of overseeing the DHS and ensuring its effectiveness is a crucial one. As the DHS watchdog, Cuffari is in a position that demands the utmost integrity and sensitivity.

But he’s been missing that mark for years.

The mother of all track records

Back in 2021, we reported that Cuffari quashed two investigations into the Secret Service in the lead-up to the 2020 elections: the questionable use of force against protestors at Lafayette Square, and the lack of proper COVID-19 precautions for agents.

In the spring of 2022, we reported that Cuffari had delayed publication of a shocking report on workplace sexual harassment and misconduct at DHS and prescribed edits to another report that downplayed the agency's protection of domestic abusers. Later that year, we broke a string of stories on Cuffari’s months-long delay in reporting the Secret Service’s deleted texts (and other missing texts) to Congress, and his nixing of a report that would’ve alerted Congress in a far timelier fashion.

Last fall, POGO reported how Cuffari's own staff had called for his removal, and this spring we published a report that staff in key offices within the DHS IG lack faith in senior leadership and fear retaliation if they disclose wrongdoing.

Cuffari’s actions are more than just a stain on his reputation — they’re proving to be a roadblock for accountability at the DHS.

Joseph Cuffari at the congressional hearing on June 6, 2023.

A decisive day

Last Tuesday, June 6, Cuffari was invited to testify at a congressional hearing on staffing challenges at the U.S-Mexico border. (We submitted testimony to the hearing on the flawed oversight that was allowing for said challenges, including the pressing crises of sexual misconduct in the ranks and deaths in custody at detention centers.)

During questioning, DHS’s chief watchdog made the startlingconfession that heroutinely purges texts from his government-issued iPhone.

The texts likely qualify as federal records, though Cuffari said otherwise. (Which is fishy, considering that Cuffari should understand what counts as a federal record — he was involved in another deleted texts scandal less than a year ago.) According to our sources, Cuffari admitted to deleting texts off his phone when he was contacted by personnel seeking records POGO requested through the Freedom of Information Act related to his management of the sexual misconduct and domestic violence reports. But Cuffari’s mass deletion may also have destroyed records related to a congressional inquiry as well.

What’sto come (and what you can do) 

The whole incident is suspicious at best. But given the fact that this is far from Cuffari’s first dust-up, the needle has moved to unacceptable.

We’ve been calling on President Joe Biden to remove and replace Cuffari — and we’re not alone on this front. After last week’s performance, members of Congress are calling for him to resign. To add your voice to the chorus, you can email President Biden through our website.

POGO’s podcast Bad Watchdog, which devoted its first season to Cuffari, just announced its second season today. Listen to the newest episode and catch up on Season 1 wherever you get your podcasts.