Homeland Security puts former inspector general on administrative leave

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson put the agency’s former inspector general on administrative leave late Thursday, the same day The Washington Post revealed a congressional investigation’s finding that the former watchdog had tailored reports to the liking of senior Obama administration officials.

A Senate investigative report concluded that Charles K. Edwards, who served as acting inspector general at the agency from 2011 until this past December, had directed altering and delaying critical investigative reports and audits at the request of top political appointees in the department.

Johnson, who took over as head of the sprawling federal department just four months ago, said he decided he had to temporarily remove Edwards from the workplace pending a final decision on his employment in light of the Senate’s findings. He said he wanted to make clear that ethics is paramount as he addresses problems in the beleaguered department, which was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Edwards oversaw the performance of a department with 225,000 employees and a $39 billion annual budget, but became cozy with its top leaders and advisers to then-Secretary Janet Napolitano, according to a Senate oversight panel’s investigation. Edwards resigned his watchdog post in December, three days before he was supposed to testify before a Senate Homeland Security and Government Operations subcommittee. The hearing was canceled when the department agreed to transfer him into the agency’s office of science and technology.

“Since I took office in December, I have made clear that injecting a new energy in the leadership of DHS is a top priority,” Johnson said in a statement. “I have also made clear to our leadership that ethics in government, setting the example, and remaining above reproach are essential elements of good leadership.”

Johnson said he was grateful to Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Ronald H. Johnson (Wis.), the chairman and ranking Republican member of the subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight that led the probe, and had asked to have a briefing from their investigators. He said the two senior department officials who are reported to have conferred most frequently with Edwards about his investigations, Napolitano’s former general counsel, John Sandweg, and her former chief of staff, Noah Kroloff, are no longer with the agency, but “if additional information comes to light, I will continue to take appropriate action.”

Director Johnson said Thursday he values the oversight that an independent inspector general can provide the department, to make sure it carries out “the important mission we are charged with effectively, responsibly, and with the utmost integrity.” Sen. Johnson said in an interview with The Post on Wednesday that he wouldn’t trust any investigations or audits from Edwards’s office.

The agency’s new inspector general, former federal prosecutor John Roth, also signaled a new day Thursday. In an officewide e-mail sent to staff members, Roth said he “appreciated” those who came forward to the Senate to blow the whistle on Edwards. Edwards put three of his staff members on administrative leave after they questioned his orders to delete information from his office’s investigation of Secret Service misconduct in Cartagena, Colombia — material that would embarrass the Secret Service and the Obama White House.

“Please be assured that you have a right to, and you should, bring improper behavior to the attention of someone who can do something about it,” Roth wrote. “You can always speak to your supervisor, or if you are uncomfortable with that, bring it to our Ombudsperson, AIG Mike Beard, or if that doesn’t work, to me personally.”

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