DHS IG Says He Did Not Mishandle the Agency’s Reports on Sexual Harassment and Domestic Violence
The Project On Government Oversight – the outside oversight group that brought these claims – pushed back on Joseph Cuffari’s letter to lawmakers.
The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general is contesting claims that he improperly handled reports on sexual harassment and domestic violence.
Last month, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee – Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa -- questioned DHS IG Joseph Cuffari following an investigation by the Project on Government Oversight that alleged the office delayed and suppressed reports about sexual assault and domestic violence. According to one of the unpublished reports, more than 10,000 employees at DHS said they have experienced sexual harassment or sexual misconduct.
“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,” Cuffari wrote in a 17-page letter to the senators. The May 13 letter, which included some redactions, was released by the IG’s office on Tuesday.
“The edits that I and members of my immediate staff requested to be made to certain draft reports were consistent with the extensive edits recommended by career civil servants who were asked to review the drafts because they are subject matter experts in the relevant field,” he wrote. Cuffari argued this was necessary to align the reports with the standards from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.
The issue centers on two projects approved by Cuffari’s predecessor Acting IG John Kelly: to look at Customs and Border Protection, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration and the Secret Service’s handling of allegations or sexual harassment and workplace sexual misconduct, and 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.
Cuffari, who was confirmed in July 2019, said the report on sexual harassment and misconduct was “plagued by problems from the start” and claimed he didn’t know about the survey (that was conducted in June and July 2018) until December 2020. The IG said he provided DHS, along with the Senate Judiciary Committee, with the results.
“I am considering closing the review without issuing a report. Before taking that step, however, I will give [Office of Inspections and Evaluations] an opportunity to explain what a report that meets [CIGIE’s] Blue Book standards might look like,” Cuffari wrote. “In addition, I have approved a project proposal under which OIE will administer another survey in fiscal year 2023,” which “would likely provide DHS leadership with useful information about any changes in response patterns since 2018 and give [the office of inspector general] a foundation to scope future work in this area.”
In the letter he also explains his rationale to revise portions of a report titled, “DHS Components Have not Fully Complied with the Department’s Guidelines for Implementing the Lautenberg Amendment.” Among other issues, the IG wrote that he “found the report confusing inasmuch as it blurred the distinction between a criminal conviction for a domestic violence offense and administrative discipline by the employing agency for ‘domestic violence.’ The latter topic was beyond the scope of the project as originally approved and the conclusions in the draft report were unpersuasive.”
Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at POGO, reacted to the IG’s letter in a series of tweets on Wednesday.
“This is not the response of someone committed to meeting the statutory mandate for inspectors general,” Hempowicz wrote. “The response is devoid of any leadership (a prerequisite for any IG), with Cuffari pointing fingers every way, but himself when answering why he failed to inform agency leadership about a survey showing rampant sexual harassment and misconduct at DHS, for over 16 months.”
Hempowicz also noted that shortly after the stories from POGO and The New York Times, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas ordered a working group to conduct a 45-day review of the employee accountability processes.
POGO has written several other reports alleging wrongdoing at the watchdog office and has called for Cuffari to resign.
Government Executive asked the offices of Durbin and Grassley for comment on the letter, but they did not immediately respond.
In addition to the senators, Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Bennie Thompson, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent Cufarri a letter on May 10 regarding the POGO report.