Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson announced Monday that he was retiring, effective Oct. 26, after serving in the position for more than two years.
House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., wasted no time using the resignation to point out problems within the department.
"Secretary Jackson's departure reaffirms two things we've known for some time -- that DHS employees suffer from the lowest morale in the federal workforce, and that the department's leadership has more holes than Swiss cheese," Thompson said in a statement.
On Sept. 5, Chertoff told Thompson during a hearing that he was not aware of any senior leaders who were planning to leave the department.
"I haven't formally asked people in the department whether they intend to stay on in the sense of setting a cutoff," Chertoff testified. "I have, however, had discussions with the senior leadership of the department.
"I am confident that -- again subject to limitations of, you know, presidential pleasure and God's willingness -- that the senior leadership team we have in place does intend to stay on, and I think we will shortly be filling the remaining gaps and vacancies."
On Monday, Thompson suggested that Chertoff's testimony was misleading. "That's either a failure of communication between the secretary and his deputy, or of honest testimony to this congressional oversight committee," Thompson said.
A department spokesman, who fielded questions for Chertoff and Jackson, fired back: "It is disturbing that the chairman would miss an opportunity to commend a fine public servant in Michael Jackson. But he somehow never misses the opportunity to find something negative to say. The men and women of this department should deserve better."
The spokesman added that Jackson informed Chertoff on Friday that he was resigning. Jackson issued a statement explaining that he was resigning for personal financial reasons.
Homeland Security ranking member Peter King, R-N.Y., said Jackson should be commended for his public service.
"I think he did an excellent job ... probably as good as you can," King said in an interview. King called Thompson's criticism "overkill" and "petty."
"If you're just going to sit back and take shots, that's the easiest job in the world," King said. "I think the Democrats' criticism would be taken more seriously if it were more focused and if it didn't just take partisan shots."
Some Democratic congressional aides questioned the timing of Jackson's resignation. According to media reports, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten told senior administration officials last month that they should resign by Labor Day if they did not plan to stay on for the remainder of the president's term.
But Jackson waited three weeks after Labor Day to resign.
A well-connected industry source said Jackson was holding on in hopes of becoming secretary of the department. But that became impossible when Chertoff was not picked to be attorney general.
The DHS spokesman said speculation that Jackson wanted to be secretary "sounds like yet another absurd D.C. rumor, to which I'm not even going to respond."
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, both praised Jackson for his service.
The industry source added that the top officials being talked about to replace Jackson are Deputy OMB Deputy Director for Management Clay Johnson and Paul Schneider, the department's undersecretary for management.