An Unsatisfactory Senate Report on an Unsatisfactory DHS Inspector General

By David North on April 25, 2014

A Senate committee has just released a damning, but not very satisfying, bipartisan report on the former Deputy and Acting Inspector-General of the Department of Homeland Security, Charles K. Edwards.

The once-over-lightly Washington Post article on the subject can be seen here and the full text of the report can be seen here.

It reveals that Edwards: was not very independent of the then-DHS leadership, as he should have been; that he modified his agency reports to suit the powers that be; and that he was all too interested in becoming the nominated IG, rather than the acting one, and behaved accordingly. The organization he ran had, because of his actions, very low morale, and he seemed to distrust many of his staff, including the entity's main lawyer.

All of this, dealing with how he handled his duties, sounds about right, as was DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson's decision, shortly after the report surfaced, to put him on administrative leave.

But there are weaknesses in the report. It is too gentle on him for misusing the powers of his office and abusing subordinates. Edwards had too strong a sense of RHIP (rank hath its privileges), I feel. The report too often lays out significant facts, and then fails to pull them together. Further, it is totally silent on former Secretary Napolitano's role in bringing him to power and keeping him there.

On the other hand, Edwards gets no credit for his very real efforts to expose USCIS' tendency to "get to yes" in its immigrant decision-making, nor for his investigations of now Deputy DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas; both acts could be regarded as indications of bureaucratic bravery.

Finally, you learn virtually nothing about immigration policy and procedures from the report.

For one who has been following these tangled issues for years, it is a predictable but disappointing report. It was produced by the staff of the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs; the cover bears the names of the Subcommittee's chair, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and its ranking member, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

I suppose you should not expect an excellent document and bipartisan support at the same time.

The subject of the 29-page report, Edwards, a career civil servant, resigned as acting IG on December 16 of last year and was re-assigned (probably with no loss of salary) to an unnamed position in the DHS Office of Science and Technology, where he presumably remains on the agency payroll.

The Post article summarized the report's main findings as follows:

The top watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security altered and delayed investigations at the request of senior administration officials, compromising his independent role as an inspector general ... Charles K. Edwards, who served as acting DHS inspector general from 2011 through 2013, routinely shared drinks and dinner with department leaders and gave them inside information about the timing and the findings of investigations.

The report provides many specifics to support those generalizations, and those charges should have led to Edwards' departure long ago.

The report also criticizes him for "lack of familiarity with OIG work", citing an interview in which he was "unable to articulate guidelines that govern briefing details of an ongoing investigation" and similar failings. This leads us to ...

The untold backstory of his appointment, which I have pieced together from other sources. When Janet Napolitano became secretary of the department in early 2009, the agency's first IG, Richard L. Skinner, was still in office. On October 2, 2009, the deadline for the 2009-2010 edition of the always-reliable Congressional Directory, Skinner was still in place, and there were two deputy IGs and five assistant IGs (see p. 762). One of the latter was Edwards, the assistant IG for administration.

Moving ahead a little over a year, Skinner retired in January 2011, and the next month Edwards, who apparently was the deputy IG by then, also became acting IG. Why Edwards, whose background was in electrical engineering, computing, and administration became Skinner's successor from among the previously described group of seven is not known to me. Some of the others carried likelier titles, such as assistant IG for audits or assistant IG for investigations.

Perhaps the secretary, surrounded as she was then by a sea of white faces in the DHS front office, thought it would be a good idea to add a darker one to the group, and Edwards is of subcontinent descent. Perhaps this was one of several reasons or was not a factor at all. Maybe she saw him as cooperative. In any case, the staff report sheds no light on Edwards prior to his appointment as the acting IG.

RHIP. The report does mention, if briefly, two other matters: Edwards' moonlighting job, and his pursuit of a PhD.

Although I recoil from the notion of a well-paid federal official, in a job routinely held by a presidential appointee, having any outside paid employment, this does not seem to raise an eyebrow in the subcommittee report. He taught a technology class at Capitol College, a small and not particularly notable educational institution in Prince George's County, Md.

What the subcommittee was interested in was the fact that, using its access to the IG's e-mails, it had "identified at least 15 occasions ... that Mr. Edwards asked for and received assistance from the OIG's technology staff" to help him prepare for the IT class. The report noted both that the employee involved said that the work took little time, but that the emails suggested otherwise.

What the subcommittee failed to note is that Capitol College is licensed by DHS to admit and teach foreign students; should a senior official of the department accept money from an institution regulated by his department? I don't think so.

The pursuit of Edwards' PhD, however, raised even more troubling questions. While government employees seeking further education is a good thing, there are certain widely accepted rules. You are supposed to do your own work, and you certainly should not coerce (or charm) your subordinates into helping with your dissertation.

The report says that Edwards caused his acting chief of staff to spend 20-25 hours, partially on government time, to help him with his IT technology dissertation. The report also deals, but not conclusively, with his travels to Florida (the location of his PhD studies) on government time and government travel orders, saying it "investigated allegations that Mr. Edwards made unnecessary official trips as a pretext to attend meetings connected to his PhD program at Nova Southeastern University."

That Nova is a truly fourth-tier educational institution, something we noted in an earlier blog on Edwards, is not mentioned in the report.

As suggested earlier, the report often offers threads of evidence, but makes few efforts to bring them together. For instance, both as a student and as a professor, Edwards leaned on his staff members to assist his academic efforts.

Then there is the statement about Edwards' "lack of familiarity with OIG work". This is not connected to the facts that his ongoing academic work dealt, both as a student and as a professor, with technology and not with governance.

Continuing with the problems with Edwards' ethics, the report touches lightly on his wife's odd assignment in India. She, too, was on the IG's payroll and telecommuted, part-time, for nearly a year from that nation. All this was brushed off by the subcommittee on the grounds that her arrangement was worked out when someone else was IG, ignoring the fact that Edwards, even before his appointment as acting IG, was a major official in the office.

It perhaps was inevitable, given all this sleaze, that some excellent work by the OIG during Edwards' tenure there was overlooked. I am thinking particularly of the devastating report on how the leadership of USCIS pushed the staff to approve, and approve quickly, benefit applications of questionably merit, as I described in an earlier blog.

As Mark Anthony said, in a more dire setting, "[T]he good is oft interred with their bones."