Democrats: It's Time for the DHS Watchdog to Go
Two House lawmakers allege the inspector general violated the Federal Records Act when he deleted text messages on his government-issued phone.
Two House Democrats are calling for the embattled Homeland Security watchdog to resign.
Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Glenn Ivey, D-Md., ranking member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Accountability, sent a letter to Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari on Thursday imploring him to step down following his admission on Tuesday that it’shis “normal practice” to delete “business” related text messages from his government-issued phone, which could be in violation of the Federal Records Act. Cuffari said during the hearing that this was not the case.
“As the [Federal Records Act] and DHS directive make clear, that was not your call,” the lawmakers wrote. “Such deletion ‘of records in the custody of the agency’ requires immediate notifications to the U.S Attorney General to initiate an investigation and anyone found guilty of ‘willfully and unlawfully’ destroying a federal record faces up to three years in prison.”
Thompson and Ivey also said, “this is not your first time being associated with the improper deletion of federal records,” citing the allegations that he mishandled the investigation into missing Secret Service text messages from the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and stonewalled Congress' investigation into such. Cuffaridefended his office’s handling of this last summer.
“In addition, you neglected to thoroughly investigate sexual harassment claims and issued reports with significant delays and quality issues,” wrote the lawmakers. Cuffari pushed back on these allegations in May 2022.
Ivey told Government Executive on Thursday, he thinks the recent text message controversy “was the last straw for many members.” When asked if he foresaw more disclosures about Cuffari in the future he said, “there’s more to come.”
The White House and DHS IG office did not immediately respond for comment.
The nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, which has made many of these accusations of wrongdoing, has been calling for Cuffari’s removal for over a year.
In a related development, Ivey and Thompson introduced a bill on Tuesday aimed at increasing transparency of the DHS inspector general office. The office’s management challenges predate Cuffari: the Government Accountability Office said in a June 2021 report there were widespread management and operational challenges at the office from at least fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2020.
The bill would require the DHS IG office to publish reports that substantiate whistleblower retaliation or allegations of misconduct by a Senior Executive Service member or political appointee at DHS (something the office stopped doing in 2020); report to Congress on any audits, inspections or evaluations that were delayed or terminated; give Congress data on the number and type of tips and complaints the IG’s hotline receives; and submit to Congress a report on the IG’s policies and procedures on quality auditing standards, which GAO will review.