There is often a push and pull between agencies and their watchdogs, when it comes to report findings or trying to get access to information.

There is often a push and pull between agencies and their watchdogs, when it comes to report findings or trying to get access to information. jayk7 / Getty Images

DHS Accuses Its Watchdog of Being ‘Inaccurate, Contextually Incomplete and Confusing’

This was in response to the inspector general’s annual report on management and performance challenges at the department. 

This story was updated at 6:26p.m. on Nov. 1 to correct NAPA's Terry Gerton's comment.

The Homeland Security watchdog listed what it says are the most pressing challenges the department faces, but the department itself says the list includes “inaccurate, contextually incomplete and confusing statements.” 

The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general released on October 27 its annual report on management and performance challenges facing the department, which broadly involved immigration, cybersecurity, homeland security, financial management, disaster assistance, and acquisition and procurement. As is customary for watchdog reports, the IG gave the department a chance to respond to a draft version of the report and the comments are included at the end of the final report. 

“DHS leadership, program officials and subject matter experts throughout the department will give appropriate consideration to the OIG perspective offered in this report,” wrote Jim Crumpacker, director of DHS’s departmental Government Accountability Office-OIG liaison office, to DHS IG Joesph Cuffari in a letter dated October 17, which was included in the report. “Leadership, however, is concerned that OIG’s [report] could be misleading to some readers about departmental efforts to carry out its mission.”

The letter continued: “That is because of inaccurate, contextually incomplete and confusing statements in the draft report resulting in misinformation, which calls into question the quality control processes OIG has in place to ensure its reporting can be relied upon by others.” The entire response is six pages long.

Specifically, Crumpacker said various examples in the draft report share the findings from the IG’s reviews but don’t include DHS officials’ perspective or note when they disagreed with findings. This was the case with the “managing detention conditions” challenge, he said. The IG used the wrong funding amount in the “ensuring proper financial management and oversight” section and for the “law enforcement unity of effort” challenge, the IG didn’t mention “the significant progress DHS has made to better manage and coordinate DHS law enforcement.” 

When asked for comment on the department’s response, a DHS IG spokesperson said they gave DHS the opportunity to provide technical comments, in accordance with federal guidelines and quality standards, which they incorporated “as appropriate in our final report.” Additionally, DHS was “given the opportunity to provide management comments, which we include in our final report.”

There is often a push and pull between agencies and their watchdogs, when it comes to report findings or trying to get access to information.

But according to Kathryn Newcomer, professor of public policy and program evaluation at The George Washington University and co-author of the book “Federal Inspectors General: Truth Tellers in Turbulent Times,” it “is highly unusual for the department to openly say the OIG report is ‘inaccurate"’ or ‘confusing.’ With good working relationships between the secretary and IG this should never happen.” 

Newcomer was part of the National Academy of Public Administration’s work with the Homeland Security IG office to address strategic planning and other issues, but she was speaking from her role as a professor and author.

The pushback from DHS, in the context of departments overall pushing back on IGs, “is not unusual, but this one is rather personal,” said Paul Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University. 

He told Government Executive that “Congress has to honor the system” of IGs and their independence despite Cuffari being a “conflicted individual” and maybe hold a hearing or launch an investigation into matters at DHS or ask GAO for a review. “I just think you’ve got to be really careful about how you handle the politics of investigation.” 

Terry Gerton, president and CEO of NAPA,  recapped NAPA’s work with the office and told Government Executive, “these transformational activities take time and we are hopeful that with sustained commitment from both DHS and OIG, these processes will strengthen the effectiveness of the [IG] reports and the working relationship with DHS as the DHS [inspector general] moves forward.”

Inspector General Cuffari has been under fire from lawmakers and the outside group Project on Government Oversight for months now for issues related to sexual assault and domestic violence reports as well as handling of investigations related to the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection (all of which the office has pushed back on). The back and forth has raised larger questions about accountability in the IG community.