Watchdog: Homeland Security officials were wrongly appointed
(AP) — The two most senior officials in the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security were improperly appointed to the posts under federal law by
the Trump administration, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog said
The Government Accountability Office says acting DHS
Secretary Chad Wolf and his acting deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, are
ineligible to run the agency under the Vacancy Reform Act.
not immediately clear what effects the determination would have on DHS,
an agency that has acting officials in a number of prominent roles and
is at the forefront of key administration initiatives on immigration and
The report does not carry the force of law,
though it could be a factor in lawsuits challenging administration
policies or influence members of Congress.
For its part, DHS rejected the finding.
wholeheartedly disagree with the GAO’s baseless report and plan to
issue a formal response to this shortly,” the agency said in a written
response to The Associated Press.
The Government Accountability
Office said it has asked the DHS inspector general, a Trump appointee,
to review the situation and determine if the violation affects decisions
they have taken.
Wolf should step down and return to the
position he previously held in the department and Cuccinelli should
resign, according to Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chair of the House
Committee on Homeland Security, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of the House
Committee on Oversight and Reform.
“GAO’s damning opinion paints a
disturbing picture of the Trump Administration playing fast and loose
by bypassing the Senate confirmation process to install ideologues,” the
two Democrats said in a joint statement.
DHS, which was already
under intense criticism for carrying out administration policies aimed
at curbing legal and illegal immigration, found itself embroiled in more
controversy this summer as it dispatched federal agents in tactical
gear to Portland to confront protesters outside federal buildings
without the cooperation of local authorities.
Maloney, of New
York, and Thompson, who is from Mississippi, condemned what they see as
the department’s priorities under Wolf and Cuccinelli.
“At a time
when DHS should be marshaling the resources of the federal government
to respond to the pandemic that has killed over 165,000 Americans, the
Department’s illegally appointed leaders are instead focused on
continuing the Administration’s attack on immigrants and intimidating
peaceful protesters in a show of force for the President’s reelection
campaign,” they said.
The GAO analysis traces the violation back
to a tumultuous period at DHS in 2019 when then-Secretary Kirstjen
Nielsen resigned. It found that she was improperly replaced by Kevin
McAleenan under the rules governing succession in federal agencies.
altered the rules of succession after he was subsequently removed, but
GAO’s legal analysis concluded that the later appointments of Wolf and
Cuccinelli were invalid.
Opponents of administration policies have already sought to use their uncertain status in legal challenges. In March, a federal judge in Washington said
Cuccinelli’s appointment violated the 1998 Vacancy Reform Act and set
aside a directive he issued that granted people seeking asylum less time
to consult with an attorney before a screening interview.
DHS is the third-largest Cabinet agency, with about 240,000 employees.