DHS watchdog 'jeopardized' office's independence, report finds

A former watchdog at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) "jeopardized" the independence of the department's inspector general office by improperly changing, delaying or reclassifying reports or audits at the request of senior Obama administration officials, a report released Thursday found.

An oversight panel on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Operations Committee found that Charles Edwards was involved in these activities when he was acting inspector general and deputy inspector general at the department. At the time, he was seeking the permanent nomination to be the head of the office.

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The report found Edwards regularly went to drinks and dinners with officials at Homeland Security and shared inside information about pending inspector general investigations. Inspector general offices are meant to operate independently of their host agencies in order to produce objective reports about fraud, waste or ways to improve those agencies.

"Mr. Edwards did not understand the importance of independence. Mr. Edwards communicated frequently with DHS senior officials and considered them personal friends. ... Mr. Edwards directed reports to be altered or delayed to accommodate senior DHS officials," said the report, which The Washington Post obtained in advance of its release.

Chairwoman of the subcommittee Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and its ranking member, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), opened the congressional investigation early last year into Edwards's alleged misconduct.

The lawmakers had already been investigating the Secret Service's prostitution scandal from 2012, which Edwards had been probing as inspector general.

The panel examined about 25,000 pages of emails, memos and records from the DHS and interviewed nearly three dozen current and former Office of the Inspector General (OIG) officials, including Edwards.

For several OIG reports and audits, the lawmakers discovered Edwards had either altered their contents or delayed their release.

One senior official told lawmakers, for instance, that Edwards had directed that language be changed in a report about an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program that identifies illegal immigrants after law enforcement have arrested them.

Instead of releasing the report on his own volition, Edwards asked an acting counsel at the department "Which day is good?"

Lawmakers investigated claims that Edwards had removed information from the OIG report on the Secret Service scandal, but they failed to reach a conclusion about those allegations. The congressional report said the DHS declined to share Edwards's emails regarding the Secret Service probe.

On Dec. 16, Edwards resigned from his position, three days before he was scheduled to answer questions about the allegations before the committee. He requested a transfer to the department's office of science and technology, which was granted.

Last month, the Senate confirmed John Roth to be DHS's inspector general. He is a former federal prosecutor.

On Thursday, Roth told the Post "this report, which examines a challenging era for DHS-OIG, contains valuable insights that my office will be taking into account as we move forward with our oversight mission." 

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