Nominee to Lead Dept. of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General Talks EB-5 at Confirmation Hearing

01.22.14 | Archived

In late 2013, as now Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Deputy Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas’ nomination was moving towards its eventual confirmation, the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a EB-5 Program evaluation that was highly critical of U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services’ (USCIS) administration of the EB-5 Regional Center Program.  Shortly thereafter, Deputy IG, Charles Edwards, resigned from his post under allegations of malfeasance while he ran the OIG in absence of any Senate confirmed IG.  IIUSA issued a statement in response to the OIG report on the EB-5 Program, which can be read by clicking here.

It is important to note that this OIG report is separate from an investigation into Dep. Secretary Mayorkas’ conduct surrounding EB-5 petitions.  Much of the objection to Mr. Mayorkas’ nomination was about the fact that this investigation had not concluded prior to his nomination coming to vote under the recently changed Senate rules consideration surrounding non-judicial nominees.  This issue came up again recently at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs confirmation hearing for the newly nominated DHS IG, John Roth.

The following CQ article by Rob Margetta, titled “Members Say IG Nominee Would Have Tough Job Ahead,” details the discussion of the above referenced investigation and how Mr. Roth would intend on handling it:

The White House’s nominee for Homeland Security inspector general received praise from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday, with members expressing relief about the possibility of new leadership for what they called a very troubled office.

The IG’s office needs to recover from “a turbulent period that has raised questions about the integrity of the office’s work and has undoubtably shaken morale within the office,” Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., told John Roth, currently the director of criminal investigations at the Food and Drug Administration, during the latter’s confirmation hearing.

The turbulence occurred during the three-year period since the department’s last Senate-confirmed inspector general, Richard Skinner, left. Accumulated problems include a backlog of investigations, some of which involve possible corruption at Customs and Border Protection; an employee at the IG’s Texas office pleading guilty earlier this year to falsifying reports and obstructing justice; two other employees from the same office indicted; and a congressional inquiry into the conduct of former acting Inspector General Charles K. Edwards. Edwards resigned last month, just days before a scheduled appearance before a Senate Homeland subcommittee to discuss the allegations.

Roth himself noted that one in three employees at the IG’s office is considering leaving for another federal agency, calling the low morale and potential loss of talent his greatest concern.

“I’m under no illusion about the challenges the next inspector general will face,” the nominee told the committee.

The senators also expressed concern about how DHS works with the IG’s office. As of March, the office had provided 1,239 recommendations that the department and its component agencies had not implemented or resolved. Roth said that if confirmed, he would meet with senior DHS leadership to prioritize the top recommendations.

Several members of the committee pledged support for Roth, with none saying they’d oppose him.

“I certainly look forward to supporting you,” ranking Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said.

Carper said he’ll schedule a vote on the nomination as soon as possible, likely next week.

Past Issues

Edwards’ tenure at the office came up frequently at the hearing. The office’s former acting head was under investigation by the Subcommittee on Finance and Contracting Oversight over reports that he improperly hired his wife; misused office funds, resources and staff; and retaliated against employees who questioned him.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Roth will have to deal with the camps of longtime employees and workers brought in by Edwards that have been “warring” with each other. Roth acknowledged the problem but said he plans to overcome it by keeping the office focused on its mission.

“My goal is to try to have people hit the reset button,” he said. “Whatever was is in the past is in the past.”

Edwards also received criticism from the full committee for how the IG’s office handled an investigation into accusations that former Citizenship and Immigration Services head Alejandro Mayorkas interfered with a visa program. A year into the investigation, the office remained in the preliminary stage and had not contacted Mayorkas, but one of its employees – with Edwards’ approval – disclosed the inquiry to Republican staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee days before Mayorkas was set to appear before the Homeland Security Committee as the nominee for deputy DHS secretary. The investigation went public and became a major hindrance for Mayorkas’ nomination, which dragged on five months before the Senate confirmed him in December. Edwards later admitted the disclosure was improper, but he said it was not politically motivated.

According to Carper, the IG’s office had promised to expedite the investigation, then backed off. It still remains open, something Coburn said Roth should remedy.

“It’s important that this be completed … in a prompt manner and in a way that no one can challenge,” Coburn said.

Roth said that it would be a top priority and that the office should not disclose the existence of investigations before they are complete, “particularly because we run the risk of getting it wrong.”

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