The need for watchdogs to operate independently of their agencies prompted a shakeup on Thursday at the Homeland Security Department inspector general’s office, resulting in a former IG being placed on leave.
Charles Edwards was removed from his interim post on the DHS science and technology staff following the release of a Senate report detailing his inappropriate socializing and sharing of draft documents with managers of the employees he was investigating. Edwards had been the subject of a yearlong probe by a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee.
“The subcommittee found that Mr. Edwards jeopardized the independence of the OIG,” said the report on the investigation, led by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis, of the Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee. Edwards had an “inadequate understanding of the importance of OIG independence” the report said. “Mr. Edwards did not obtain independent legal advice and directed reports to be altered or delayed to accommodate senior DHS officials. Mr. Edwards also did not recuse himself from audits and inspections that had a conflict of interest related to his wife’s employment.”
Edwards, an engineer with 20 years of federal experience, including stints at the Transportation Security Administration and the Postal Service, “socialized with senior D.H.S. officials outside of work over drinks and dinner,” the report said. “The subcommittee obtained emails where Mr. Edwards told the D.H.S. chief of staff that he truly valued his friendship and that his ‘support, guidance and friendship has helped me be successful this year.’ ”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, in placing Edwards on administrative leave Thursday, told reporters, “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.”
Edwards was cleared of other allegations, such as abuse of government resources in travel and charges of nepotism, the subcommittee found. Allegations that he destroyed records and favored certain employees and retaliated against others were not substantiated, said the report, which was sent to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. “However, the subcommittee did find that there was a widespread belief that Mr. Edwards engaged in those actions and that belief contributed to an office environment characterized by low morale, fear, and general dissatisfaction with Mr. Edwards’ leadership,” the report stated.
Edwards resigned from the IG’s office in December on the eve of scheduled congressional testimony, and has since been replaced by John Roth.
The drama at the Homeland Security IG’s office has been followed closely by advocacy groups for government transparency and accountability. Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, which tracked the issue to highlight the role of whistleblowers in feeding information to the senators, told Government Executive on Friday, "We are seeing growing evidence that acting IGs should be removed from consideration for the permanent jobs at their agencies. Doing that would remove the incentive to improperly curry favor with the agency management they're supposed to be overseeing."
The nonprofit Cause of Action, which conducted its own two-year probe of Edwards, issued a statement noting that the inspectors general council continues to investigate his conduct. The group raised “concerns to President Obama about the destruction of records and complaints filed about his misconduct that would warrant Edwards’ removal from office and potential criminal liability,” it stated. “We know that the Office of Special Counsel forwarded at least one complaint about Edwards to CIGIE.”
Cause of Action sued the DHS IG office for failing to produce documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act. “This transparency failure is now costing time and resources in court for what could have been a simple compliance with FOIA,” the group said. “CIGIE should complete its investigation as expeditiously as possible and refer evidence of criminal conduct to the Department of Justice” given that Edwards is technically still a DHS manager.