Resignation of DHS deputy prompts questions on Capitol Hill

The resignation of the Homeland Security Department's deputy secretary set off a war of words on Capitol Hill Monday, with a senior House Democrat questioning whether the department has been honest in recent testimony to Congress.

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.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.