DHS ‘centralizing’ disciplinary processes following 45-day review

The Department of Homeland Security is moving to centralize and standardize disciplinary processes for serious misconduct after unpublished reports showed cases of sexual harassment, domestic violence and other misconduct being overlooked at DHS law enforcement components.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the changes in a statement last week. They follow a 45-day review led by DHS General Counsel Jonathan Meyer.

“Based on the results of that review, I have directed the department to implement significant reforms to our employee misconduct discipline processes, including centralizing the decision-making process for disciplinary actions and overhauling agency policies regarding disciplinary penalties,” Mayorkas said in the statement.

Mayorkas ordered the review after the The New York Times and the Project on Government Oversight published draft findings from the DHS inspector general’s office. POGO’s report included an unpublished draft of a sexual misconduct review, as well as findings from a report on DHS’s handling of domestic violence that were ultimately removed from the final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.

The unpublished reports have also led lawmakers to question DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari about his office removing damaging findings from the reviews.

In his latest statement, Mayorkas called the reports “deeply concerning” and said they underscored the need for action to address harassment and other misconduct at DHS.

“Centralizing disciplinary processes will ensure that allegations of serious misconduct are handled by a dedicated group of well-trained individuals, who are not the employees’ immediate supervisors, at each DHS component agency,” Mayorkas said.

The DHS head also said the department would be reforming its policies around disciplinary penalties, “including by providing more specific guidance, will promote accountability and ensure consequences are consistent and appropriate based on the severity of the misconduct.”

Mayorkas said the reforms are “already underway.”

“As it proceeds through the coming months, DHS will continue to engage with the labor organizations representing our employees to ensure the continued protection of employees’ due process rights,” he added.

DHS did not respond to a reporter’s email seeking more information about the new policies and the timeline for implementing them across the department’s components.

In April, POGO published draft DHS OIG reports focused on misconduct within Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration.

An 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.

POGO also obtained draft findings that were removed from a 2020 DHS OIG report 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.”

In a statement, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) applauded DHS’s announcement of new misconduct policies. She also referenced an investigation by the committee into CBP’s handling of 60 employees who participated in an offensive Facebook group mocking migrants and lawmakers.

“CBP reduced discipline for dozens of agents and allowed them to continue working with migrants — including vulnerable children — despite violent and offensive Facebook posts,” Maloney said. “The department’s announcement takes steps to correct failures uncovered by the committee, and I applaud Secretary Mayorkas for his efforts to reform CBP’s deeply flawed disciplinary process.”

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