The Department of Homeland Security is reviewing its processes for disciplining employee misconduct after draft findings from the office of the inspector general showed sexual misconduct and domestic violence are going uninvestigated, unreported or unpunished at four DHS law enforcement components.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas directed the 45-day review of department-wide misconduct processes in an April 7 memo. DHS General Counsel Jonathan Meyer is leading a working group that will assess current policies and recommend necessary improvements.
Mayorkas ordered the review in reaction to a report from the Project on Government Oversight, which obtained and published draft DHS OIG findings. POGO reported on an unpublished draft of a sexual misconduct review, as well as findings from a report on DHS’s handling of domestic violence that were ultimately removed from the final document released in November 2020.
According to POGO’s report, Inspector General Joseph Cuffari and senior leaders removed relevant information from the domestic violence report, and are using similar justifications to edit material out of the unpublished sexual misconduct evaluation, which was initiated in 2018.
The DHS OIG defended its work in a statement. A spokeswoman for OIG said Cuffari has been working to fix quality and organizational issues within the DHS OIG’s office that predated his arrival.
“Since coming on board in July 2019, Dr. Cuffari established the highest expectations for quality standards for every employee,” the spokeswoman said. “All reports initiated and published during his tenure have met appropriate government standards.”
The spokeswoman did not address the concerns POGO raised about the deleted material from the reports.
“The report you reference is ongoing, and we would be happy to share it when it is issued,” the spokeswoman said regarding the sexual misconduct review. “The work was initiated prior to Dr. Cuffari’s confirmation and is the last ‘aged’ case he inherited.”
Both reviews referenced in POGO’s report are focused on misconduct within Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration.
The unpublished sexual misconduct review obtained by POGO shows more than 10,000 employees from the four law enforcement components said they have experienced sexual harassment or misconduct in the workplace, representing over one-third of the 28,000 employees who responded to a survey conducted as part of the evaluation.
Only 22% of the more than 10,000 respondents who said they experienced harassment or misconduct formally reported it, while 41% of those who did report it said it “negatively affected their careers,” according to the survey.
POGO also published draft findings that were removed from the 2020 evaluation that found cases in which DHS internal affairs substantiated domestic abuse allegations against law enforcement personnel, but they “received little or no discipline and remained a law enforcement officer with access to a firearm.”
After the DHS working group completes its 45-day misconduct review, the recommendations will be implemented “as expeditiously as possible and consistent with our department’s relevant legal obligations,” according to Mayorkas’ memo, which was first reported by The New York Times.
“Secretary Mayorkas has made it clear to the DHS workforce that sexual harassment and sexual assault will not be tolerated,” a DHS spokesman said. “Since the start of the Biden-Harris Administration, DHS has taken important steps to combat abuse and misconduct, including reforms to Department policies and employee trainings. By law, the DHS Office of Inspector General occupies a unique and independent status within the Department. DHS does not have any involvement with internal OIG deliberations or decisions.”
Congressional oversight leaders said they were concerned by the POGO report, the latest in a long string of issues for the DHS OIG office.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) indicated he would be following up on the reports.
“It is extremely troubling that the Office of Inspector General appears to have attempted to minimize or sweep misconduct at the department under the rug,” Thompson said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this is part of a pattern of this Inspector General failing to meet his oversight mission. We look forward to discussing with the OIG very soon.”
An aide to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee told Federal News Network, “we are aware of the POGO report, find it concerning, and are looking into it.”
Cuffari’s office says he has been attempting to fix longstanding problems in the IG’s office since taking over in 2019.
“Since he came on board in July 2019, the increased productivity and quality of our work demonstrate that his methods are sound, and our work can now withstand scrutiny,” the spokeswoman said. “He is also proud to report the impact on his staff’s morale, which is at an all-time high. Our [Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey] scores during his tenure have significantly increased.”
The FEVS employee engagement index trend for the DHS OIG increased by eight points from 61 in 2019 to 69 in 2020.
In 2018, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) organized a peer review of the DHS OIG and gave the office a “pass with deficiency” rating for its audit work. In 2017 and 2018, DHS OIG had to retract 13 audit reports for failing to comply with government standards.
The Government Accountability Office has also raised timeliness concerns with the OIG’s work. According to GAO, eight projects took more than 18 months to complete in 2017. And in 2020, 35 projects took longer than 18 months to complete.