Censured Homeland Security watchdog placed on leave
WASHINGTON — The secretary of the Homeland Security Department put the agency's former internal watchdog on administrative leave on Thursday in response to the release of a Senate report that concluded he was too cozy with senior agency officials and improperly rewrote, delayed or classified some critical reports to accommodate President Obama's political appointees.
Secretary Jeh Johnson said Charles K. Edwards, who was allowed to quietly resign and take another job within the department in December, was put on leave when Johnson reviewed the 27-page report from a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee.
“Other individuals who are apparently and allegedly implicated have already left DHS, and if additional information comes to light, I will continue to take appropriate action,” Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson said he spoke with Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who led the investigation, and asked for their investigators to brief him on their findings.
The report said Edwards wasn't qualified for his job, and he lacked the independence required of an inspector general. It said he asked for guidance from senior Homeland Security Department officials, instead of from his own staff.
Edwards' internal transfer, which took place before Johnson was sworn into office, was announced days before he was scheduled to testify before the subcommittee.
Edwards did not respond to an emailed request for comment. He has denied any wrongdoing.
“I value the role the inspector general plays in the department, and I expect the leadership in that office as well as across the department to carry out the important mission we are charged with effectively, responsibly and with the utmost integrity,” Johnson said.
The subcommittee concluded that Edwards changed or delayed multiple reports, including audits focused on Immigration and Customs Enforcement's controversial Secure Communities program, which uses fingerprints collected in jails to identify immigrants in the country illegally, and the Transportation Security Administration's air passenger screening equipment.
In the case of the ICE program audit, the report said Edwards discussed the timing of the March 2012 report's release with John Sandweg, then the department's acting general counsel. In one email, Edwards asked Sandweg what day would be good to release the audit and then followed his suggestion. The report ultimately was released after a DHS official testified before a House panel on the issue. One email Edwards sent the day after the hearing said the final report had been sitting on his desk for a week.
In Washington, timing the release of news can be important to manage political repercussions. Publishing an embarrassing report just before an administration official is testifying to Congress under oath can give lawmakers an opportunity to ask pointed questions, or delaying release of a report until a Friday afternoon — especially close to a holiday weekend — can help blunt negative coverage.