The person within the Department of Homeland Security, who whistleblowers are supposed to be comfortable with contacting to report waste, fraud, abuse or other examples of corruption, failed to maintain independence as the Department’s Inspector General. He has been placed on “administrative leave” by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson.
The subcommittee reviewed hundreds of pages of documents from whistleblowers, in addition to emails, memoranda, and records that were requested from DHS in order to produce the report.
Charles K. Edwards, according to the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight’s report, communicated “frequently with DHS senior officials and considered them personal friends. Mr. Edwards did not obtain independent legal advice.” He also “directed reports to be altered or delayed to accommodate senior DHS officials” and “did not recuse himself from some audits and inspections that had a conflict of interest related to his wife’s employment, resulting in those reports being tainted.”
He found there was nothing wrong with socializing with senior DHS officials of which he was supposed to provide oversight. Emails showed he valued his “friendship” with the DHS Chief of Staff and thought his “support, guidance and friendship” helped him “be successful this year.”
According to the report, the Subcommittee “also obtained an email to the DHS Acting Counsel where Mr. Edwards wrote ‘Your friendship, support and advice means so much to me. There are many blessings to be thankful for this year, but one of the best is having a friend like you.'”
The subcommittee found it was possible that Edwards had, as one whistleblower alleged, destroyed emails. It was unable to substantiate allegations that Edwards had deleted or improperly closed and concealed complaints submitted through a hotline whistleblowers are to use to report abuse.
Edwards also improperly altered or delayed reports. A March 2012 report on a program called “Secure Communities” run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is supposed to identify immigrants who are here without proper citizenship after they are arrested by local law enforcement, was supposed to examine whether ICE “had made misleading statements regarding the implementation of the program.”
“According to a senior official, Mr. Edwards directed language to be changed in the report at the request of DHS officials before the final draft was formally sent to DHS for comment,” the report says.
Furthermore, when the DHS Acting Counsel “inquired about which day the next week the report would come out,” Edwards replied, “Which day is good?” He ensured the report came out on the date preferred by the DHS Acting Counsel.
A report published in November 2011 on the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) used for screening passengers (the full body scanners) had “restricted distribution” because he added information from TSA that was classified “top secret.” It did not add anything to the report or change any conclusions. But, over the objections of Assistant Inspector General (AIG) for Audits, it did make it unlikely the public would find out much about what it said on TSA’s use of body scanners.
When officials in the Office of Inspector General investigated allegations of Secret Service misconduct in Cartagena, a lead investigator was apparently directed to delete “derogatory information.” He believed it was because the information would be damaging to President Barack Obama’s administration. This investigator put together a memorandum that contained all that was being removed.
The Office of Counsel to the IG looked into reports that Edwards was a part of some coverup. Officials, including the lead investigator, who were involved in investigating whether there was a coverup, were placed on “administrative leave” in December 2012. They believed this was retaliation.
While the subcommittee did not substantiate the allegations that administrative leave and poor performance reviews were used as retaliation against employees, it did speak with “current and former OIG employees” who “repeatedly reported that Mr. Edwards had created a hostile work environment.”
One official characterized the office as a “toxic, totally dysfunctional and oppressive” work environment characterized by low morale, paranoia, and fear.184 Another official described the atmosphere of the OIG as one of “[c]omplete terror,” such that “there were times that [they] couldn’t even get up out of bed, [they were] so emotionally scared, drained.”
“One OIG employee,” according to the report, explained that “more experienced senior officials refrained from
criticizing Mr. Edwards out of fear of repercussions.” Anyone who disagreed with Edwards was no longer considered loyal. This resulted in a “steady exodus of agency staff.” And one OIG official even said Edwards’ management style was, “My way or the highway, and if you don’t like it, I will either put you on admin[istrative] leave or I’ll make sure that you leave.”
This is who whistleblowers were supposed to believe would follow-up on their allegations or claims and properly investigate the agency if it was engaged in wrongdoing.
Had any of these whistleblowers provided information on misconduct to the process, this is who they would have been told they should have gone to first before disclosing information without proper authorization.
It all suggests DHS has been a very dysfunctional agency and the people who are supposed to at least inform the public that everything has gotten out of hand have enabled a culture of coziness with leadership that makes certain anyone who cares about ethics is silenced for caring about doing their job appropriately.