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The Buck Stops With Chertoff & Jackson Top Security Officials Must Answer for DHS Debacles

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Today, Congressman Bennie G. Thompson, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security sent the following letter to Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King calling for immediate hearings to examine the Department of Homeland Security Secretary’s Office and its operations and practices.

Thompson issued the following statement regarding the request:

“Time and time again this Committee has requested information regarding the Department’s contracting decisions, hiring practices, emergency preparedness, and fraud waste and abuse issues, and time and time again we are either ignored or given the run around. This blatant disrespect for this Committee will not be tolerated. The American people deserve better then having low-level career employees testify at hearings on major missteps of political appointees.

“In addition, this Department is claiming ignorance regarding its contract with Shirlington Limousine and their relationship with former Rep. Duke Cunningham. It is unconscionable to think that that the agency charged with tracking down terrorists cannot even track down letters of recommendation or resignation that their own employees are submitting. It is high time, whether by choice or by subpoena, that this Committee be shown the respect it deserves by the Department of Homeland Security and given an accurate and thorough explanation of these issues by the Secretary and Deputy Secretary.”

June 15, 2006

Chairman Peter King
Committee on Homeland Security
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Peter:

A number of recent events have raised great concerns for me about the operations of the Office of the Secretary of Homeland Security. The overwhelming evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, and incompetence at the Department requires the Committee on Homeland Security to exercise its oversight responsibilities by holding the leadership of the agency accountable. By all accounts, the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of the Department are failing to provide for the security of our nation. Consequently, this Committee must do right by the American taxpayers by calling the Secretary and Deputy Secretary before our Committee to explain their failures. As I indicated at the Management, Integration, and Oversight (MI&O) Subcommittee hearing, we should require Mr. Chertoff and Mr. Jackson to appear at a Full Committee hearing before Members are dismissed for the July 4th recess. If they refuse to appear, I would support issuing a subpoena to secure their appearance. If we do not hold them accountable now, before more taxpayer dollars are wasted and more good workers flee the Department, this Committee will be derelict in its oversight responsibilities.

I know I speak for many in Congress who are concerned about how the Secretary’s office conducts major policy decisions and contracting, its inadequate record keeping, and the length of time it takes to approve reports to Congress, strategic plans, and administrative rules. Time and time again we have heard during hearings from lower-level career employees that they were not authorized to answer specific questions or that decision-making occurred at the Secretary’s office and not in their respective components. Just yesterday, in the Investigations Subcommittee, political appointees declined to show up at a hearing on individual assistance fraud, instead sending a career employee who could not answer many of our questions. This is simply unacceptable. We should not be condoning the Department’s throwing career employees “under the bus” in order to protect political appointees.

As I noted today at the Management, Integration and Oversight subcommittee hearing, there are many examples that raise concerns about the operations of the Secretary’s Office. For example, we have recently learned that former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA), who has now been sentenced to prison for corruption charges, may have written a letter to the Department recommending Shirlington Limousine Company for a contract to perform transportation services for the agency. Shirlington subsequently obtained this contract. I have requested Rep. Cunningham’s letter from the Department, but I have been informed that the Secretary’s office cannot locate a copy of it. I am concerned that this incident reveals that the Secretary’s office does not have effective record-keeping procedures in place, or worse yet, permits individuals to tamper with records that could be part of a controversy or investigation into contracts.

The Secretary’s Office also does not appear to be conducting effective oversight of major Department initiatives. For example, it is unclear whether the Secretary’s Office was adequately involved in the final approval of the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant process. The amount major cities will receive from UASI this year were announced a few weeks ago. New York and several other major cities that I view as being seriously at-risk of a terrorist attack received a cut in UASI funding. I completely support the position you have taken on this matter and believe that the Department should publicly be held accountable for putting our major cities at risk from terrorist attacks.

In addition to its lack of effective oversight and record-keeping, the Secretary’s office has also taken an inordinately long time to review reports, plans, and administrative rules that have been approved by lower level agency offices. In several prominent cases, the Secretary’s office has reviewed these documents for so long that they have been forwarded to Congress or published past statutory or announced deadlines. I am attaching to this letter a list that the Democratic staff recently put together showing how much is outstanding from the Department. Both last year and this year, MI&O Subcommittee Ranking Member Kendrick Meek and I have requested the Department to explain the failure to meet many Congressionally-mandated deadlines. We have yet to receive an adequate answer.

Let me give you a few examples of the types of matters on which the Department is delinquent. The Nationwide Plan Review Phase II, which was originally scheduled to be sent to Congress by June 1, 2006, is already several weeks late. As you know, this report was required by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2006 Department of Homeland Security Authorization bill because of concerns that catastrophic planning at a state level was not adequate. Congress needs this report in order to determine whether catastrophic planning is improving, particularly considering that hurricane season has already begun. It is unclear why the Secretary’s office is still reviewing this document.

Similarly, Robert Mocny, Deputy Director of US-VISIT, a key entry-exit program that is designed to secure our air, land and sea borders, briefed Committee staff in March on the program’s FY 2007 budget and confirmed at that time that a strategic plan for US-VISIT was still pending approval by the Secretary’s office. Randolph Hite of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified before the Senate Appropriation’s Subcommittee on Homeland Security on January 25, 2006 that one reason US-VISIT remains so incomplete is that the strategic plan designed to align US-VISIT with the Department’s mission goals and operations, although drafted in March of 2005, had yet to be approved. Again, it is unclear why the Secretary’s office is still reviewing this US-VISIT plan.

The Secretary’s office has also delayed important rule-making dealing with border crossing documentation. According to a May 25, 2006 letter from GAO to several Members of Congress, the Department of State reports that the Department of Homeland Security is in the “final clearance process” for the rule on “PASS” system, announced by Secretary Chertoff and Secretary Rice in a joint briefing at the Department of State on January 17, 2006 as an alternative to a traditional passport in order to fulfill the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requirement in Section 7209 of P.L. 108-458. The two departments announced this joint program to smoothly roll out a system of passport cards and readers well before the legal deadline of January 1, 2008 in order to secure our land borders without disrupting trade and travel at heavily-traveled border crossings. However, GAO reported that, “Achieving the intended security benefits of the Travel Initiative by the statutory milestone date, without simply requiring all travelers to carry a passport, appears in jeopardy, given the volume of work that remains.” One of GAO’s key concerns is the delay in the rule-making process for this program. According to the latest information, this rule is still under review in the Secretary’s office.

The Secretary’s office has also failed to timely approve the fusion center initiative proposed by Chief Intelligence Officer Charles Allen. Mr. Allen’s plan is designed to station Office of Intelligence and Analysis personnel in the various intelligence fusion centers that are multiplying across the country in order to promote information sharing with the Department’s State, local, and tribal law enforcement and private sector partners. By creating a single point of contact in the fusion centers, and by adopting a “customer service” approach designed to meet the particular needs of individual fusion centers, the hope is that the fusion center initiative will facilitate two-way communication of specific and actionable homeland security information to help protect lives and property. It is my understanding that the initiative is complete, but it has been under review by Assistant Secretary Michael Jackson since March.

These are just a few examples of how the Secretary’s office fails to properly prioritize its workload in order to complete tasks on time or maintain appropriate documentation and oversight. I hope that you will agree to hold a hearing on how the Secretary’s office is performing these operations so that we can perform our constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities.

I look forward to hearing from you on this request.


Bennie G. Thompson
Ranking Member
House Committee on Homeland Security


Please contact Dena Graziano or Todd Levett at (202) 226-4503

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS)

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson

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