Senators Have More Questions for the DHS Watchdog on His Handling of Reports About Sexual Harassment, Domestic Violence
The inspector general had sent them a 17-page response defending his handling of the matter.
A bipartisan pair of senators has more questions about how the Homeland Security watchdog handled reports on sexual harassment and domestic violence.
The Project on Government Oversight issued a report in April that alleged the Homeland Security inspector general office delayed and suppressed reports about sexual assault and domestic violence. According to an unpublished report POGO reported on, more than 10,000 employees at DHS said they have experienced sexual harassment or sexual misconduct. However, in a 17-page response in May to senators who inquired about the situation, IG Joseph Cuffari asserted: “Any suggestion that I demanded changes to the draft reports for improper purposes is false as is the suggestion that I suppressed evidence of widespread sexual harassment in DHS law enforcement components.”
The May letter “provided a detailed explanation for the conclusions you reached with respect to each report,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and committee ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote to Cuffari in a new letter on Monday. However, it “has not resolved the significant concerns that we expressed in our April 26 letter. Furthermore, our review of your response has led to additional questions regarding the editorial process and decision making surrounding the draft report and subsequent non-release.”
The issue centers on two projects approved by Cuffari’s predecessor, acting IG John Kelly: a review of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration and the Secret Service’s handling of allegations of sexual harassment and workplace sexual misconduct; and an assessment to determine if DHS agencies with law enforcement personnel were in compliance with the Lautenberg Amendment, which bans the possession of firearms for individuals convicted of domestic violence.
The senators asked a series of follow-up questions on Cuffari’s decision to remove certain information from the domestic violence report from an earlier draft and why its scope was allegedly changed; why he stated an IG “is in no position to substitute the subjective preferences of an inspector for the considered strategic judgments of agency attorneys and managers” (the senators claim other IG offices have done so in their reports); and the reasons for the delay of the unpublished report on sexual harassment and misconduct.
Durbin and Grassley also asked if Cuffari ever sought a staff briefing on the survey after he learned in early December 2020 of the existence of a 2018 survey on sexual harassment in DHS law enforcement agencies. They asked for responses to their questions by no later than July 18.
A spokesperson for the DHS IG office told Government Executive on Tuesday it received the letter and that: “We take inquiries from Congress seriously and we will answer their questions consistent with the law.”
Following the release of Cuffari’s letter to the senators, POGO’s staff pushed back on the claims in the letter and argued Cuffari’s responses were insufficient.
In addition to the senators, Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent Cuffari a letter on May 10 regarding the POGO report.
Earlier this month, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the department is making “significant reforms” to its employee misconduct discipline processes, following a 45-day review he ordered in the aftermath of POGO’s report.