Former Homeland Security Watchdog Officials Fostered ‘Divisiveness, Disorder and Dissension,’ Report Finds

Jerome460/Shutterstock.com

The three senior employees are no longer working for the IG office. 

A former senior official at the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general office, along with two other high-ranking employees within the office, engaged in systematic unprofessional and divisive behavior that hindered the office’s ability to achieve its mission, according to a recent external investigation. 

On May 4, 2020, the DHS IG engaged the international law firm Wilmer Hale to review the conduct of three senior IG office employees. It completed a 92-page report on December 14, 2020, and Government Executive received a redacted version through the Freedom of Information Act. Wilmer Hale looked at 88 allegations, conducted 70 interviews and reviewed over 42,000 documents for its investigation that spanned late 2017 to 2020. 

The individual at the center of the investigation, with the assistance of the two others, “planted and then cultivated seeds of divisiveness, disorder and dissension to the detriment” of the agency, said the report. “The agency was beset by employees’ associations of misconduct and retaliation, frequent internal investigations of [office of inspector general] personnel, and complaints and counter-complaints filed with the integrity committee of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, the Office of Special Counsel and Congress.”

A DHS IG official told Government Executive that the individuals in the report no longer work for the office. 

Current and former IG employees told Wilmer Hale there was a “pattern of mistreatment” by two of the top officials and the third, to a lesser degree, “to any employees they thought were in the way of their personal goals and agenda.” The employees “described a challenging working environment where employees often faced verbal abuse and threats of poor performance evaluations,” said the report. 

The main employee, with the help of the others, “publicly disparaged” IG Joseph Cuffari when he took office in July 2019, opened investigations into him before his confirmation and worked to “maintain control over the key leadership positions in the agency while simultaneously limiting [Cuffari’s] ability to hire Senior Executive Service employees,” the independent investigation found.

Another example of misbehavior outlined in the report involves the situation surrounding the IG’s retraction of 13 “feel good” reports in July 2017 and March 2018 on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to disasters. John Kelly, acting DHS IG at the time, accelerated his retirement shortly after a report on the incident was published in June 2019. 

Changes made in 2011 by Kelly (when he was director of forensic audits) and then-assistant IG Michael Beard were not well communicated and “set the work off course and resulted in a flawed product line,” said the report. “The new approach” made personnel “think of Emergency Management Oversight Team reports as 'feel good' reports — i.e., generally positive reports that typically concluded that FEMA’s initial response to a disaster was effective.”

According to the new report, the main person, along with the two others, were “badgering [redacted name] to retire, lobbying senior staff to convince him to ‘leave,’ ” and oversaw the investigation into the reports “that directly implicated him and public[ized] its results.”

Two of the employees, “effectuated an undocumented move of the human resources department to the legal department in August 2018,” which “allowed [redacted name] and [redacted name] greater control over internal investigations and personnel actions.” 

Wilmer Hale could not confirm all of the 88 allegations, such as any “illegal conduct” or false testimony to Congress. 

“This report says numerous whistleblowers sent many allegations to CIGIE, but it has a big, corporate logo on the cover page because the investigation was conducted by a private law firm,” Irvin McCullough, deputy director for legislation at the Government Accountability Project, told Government Executive. “Where were the government’s own watchdogs? There is deeply troubling misconduct—that deserved this investigation—described in the report. Congress needs to repair the system that ensures accountability within the inspector general community.” 

Previous reporting by The Washington Post in March 2020 and a letter from Cuffari to congressional leaders indicate that Jennifer Costello, former acting IG, is one of the employees upon which the report centers. A former DHS IG employee knowledgeable of the situation confirmed that it is her and said the other two officials were Karen Ouzts and Diana Shaw, who is now the deputy IG for the State Department. 

“In attempts to gain power, they weaponized the inspector general’s office, so they could go after people that were disloyal to them,” a senior DHS IG official with knowledge of the situation told Government Executive. “They turned it into a retaliation mill” and “the important oversight mission is essentially being ignored” as a result, the official said, referencing the Washington Post report about how the office has drastically slowed its pace in publishing audits over the last four years. 

“Some of the issues raised in the report appear to relate to my client, Ms. Costello. It would be inappropriate, however, for Ms. Costello to provide specific comments, as doing so may violate the privacy rights of the other employees referenced in the report,” Eden Brown Gaines, attorney for Costello, told Government Executive. “In fact, I am deeply concerned about IG Cuffari's disclosure of sensitive personnel information, as well as information relating to ongoing investigations and legal proceedings, including my client's pending litigation against DHS OIG.” 

She also said the report was “an astonishing misuse of $1.4 million of taxpayer dollars” and questioned how the situation was handled. 

“Cuffari removed my client, before conducting any investigation, and now appears to have launched an expensive attack against her and other employees because he felt ‘undermined’ by the legitimate, legally protected whistleblower complaints that they filed against him with the Inspector General Integrity Committee, the Office of Special Counsel, and bipartisan members of congressional staff,” she stated. “Ms. Costello's removal and this belated farce of an investigation is the very definition of retaliation. I believe IG Cuffari's actions and the report from the ostensible investigation by a private firm will have a chilling effect on staff at DHS and other agencies who might be contemplating coming forward to expose wrongdoing.” 

Shaw did not respond to a request for comment submitted through the State IG's office, and Ouzts did not respond to a LinkedIn request from a reporter.

Wilmer Hale has 1,000 lawyers in its 13 offices worldwide. According to Salon, the firm “has extensive ties to the Trump administration and the president's family.” Additionally, President Biden’s pick for Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, was previously a partner at Wilmer Hale. The firm did not respond for comment on the report. 

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.