Disaster relief personnel deliver supplies to Santa Ana community residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

Disaster relief personnel deliver supplies to Santa Ana community residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico. Carlos Giusti / AP file photo

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Homeland Security Watchdog Retires After Flap Over ‘Feel Good’ FEMA Reviews

11-year veteran Kelly told staff on Monday he accelerated his move after criticism.

The acting inspector general for the Homeland Security Department announced to his staff on Monday that he was retiring immediately, speeding up his plans in the wake of a report by his own office showing that he had tasked auditors with producing softer, “feel good” reviews of disaster team responses by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“I accelerated my retirement because I feel it’s in the best interest of the organization and its employees,” John Kelly said in a statement provided by the DHS IG after his departure was reported on Monday by The Washington Post. “As I told the staff, I have truly enjoyed my 11-year tenure with the DHS OIG, an organization with a very important mission and extraordinary staff and managers that successfully execute that mission on a daily basis.”

Kelly, who previously ran audits for the Government Accountability Office, was under pressure after an IG team—from which he was recused—re-evaluated 13 past reports on FEMA that were conducted under a new method pressed by Kelly. That special review took the unusual step of “retracting” the faulty reports and was reported by Government Executive on May 30.

Changes made in 2011 by John Kelly and then-Assistant Inspector General D. Michael Beard, the report said, were not well communicated and “set the work off course and resulted in a flawed product line.” The new approach, the auditors said, caused personnel to “think of Emergency Management Oversight Team reports as 'feel good' reports — i.e., generally positive reports that typically concluded that FEMA’s initial response to a disaster was effective.”

Kelly had served as acting IG following the departure last November of John Roth. President Trump last November announced that he was nominating Joseph Cuffari, a policy adviser to Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, to replace Roth.

Deputy Inspector General Jennifer Costello has assumed the role of acting inspector general. She previously was DHS OIG’s Chief Operating Officer, having first joined in 2017 as the assistant inspector general for inspections and evaluations. Costello’s other IG experience was at the State Department and Broadcasting Board of Governors (now the U.S. Agency for Global Media.) She also worked for GAO for 13 years.