washingtonpost.com  > Politics > Bush Administration

Appointment Runs Out For DHS Inspector General

Senate Did Not Act on Bush Nomination of Ervin

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 17, 2004; Page A31

Clark Kent Ervin is out as the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general after the Senate failed to confirm him and the White House appeared unlikely to nominate him again.

Ervin, 45, who was a recess appointment to the position in December 2003 after serving as acting IG since January of that year, left the job last week after the Senate adjourned Dec. 8 and his appointment expired. Rick Skinner, the deputy IG at the department, will serve as acting inspector general until President Bush nominates a replacement.

Clark Kent Ervin criticized the Department of Homeland Security. (DHS)

Some critics of the administration suggested that Ervin, a former inspector general at the State Department, was forced out for being overly critical of DHS operations and management practices. Ervin has attributed his departure to the Senate's unwillingness to act on his nomination.

In October, Ervin issued a report assailing the Transportation Security Administration, a DHS agency, for an employee awards ceremony at a hotel here that cost nearly $500,000, including nearly $200,000 on travel and lodging for attendees. The same investigation found that TSA senior managers received bonuses averaging $16,000 each -- higher than in any other federal agency.

Another Ervin report in October said TSA screeners were poorly trained to handle deadly weapons and were not tested on passengers' rights. Last week, on his last day, Ervin issued one report criticizing "weaknesses" in DHS accounting systems and another identifying problems with grant and contract management at the nearly two-year-old department.

"While DHS has made progress, it still has much to do to establish a cohesive, efficient and effective organization," the second report said.

Some critics of the department said they were sorry to see Ervin go.

"I would repeatedly wonder how long this guy was going to keep his job," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that promotes accountability in government. "I thought that was an agency that needed exactly this kind of guy as an IG. . . . Over the last 10 years, IGs have generally become less watchdog and more lap dog."

Human Rights First, a civil rights and civil liberties advocacy group, said, "Ervin's abrupt dismissal calls into question the administration's commitment to an independent inspector general at DHS."

Asked if Bush thought Ervin had been too critical, White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said only: "The president nominated Mr. Ervin back in 2003, and, as with all those who serve in his administration, he greatly appreciates Mr. Ervin's service."

Federal law would prohibit Ervin from being paid if Bush were to renominate him and give him second recess appointment, according to the inspector general's office.

Ervin's nomination ran into trouble in Congress over his handling, while IG at the State Department, of claims by several Americans that they had been sexually harassed while working for an international organization, an associate of Ervin's said.

"Apparently that thing tarred him forever," said the associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he might draw the ire of lawmakers. "When he explains it to you, it makes complete sense the action he took. But it was not to the satisfaction of everyone else, especially the powers that be in the Senate."

An aide in the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which was handling Ervin's confirmation, said that there will be no comment on nominations and that the decision not to renominate Ervin "was purely a White House decision."

Ervin was traveling this week and could not be reached for an interview. In an interview with National Public Radio last week, the Harvard-educated lawyer defended his performance and said he wanted stay on.

In a voice-mail message left in response to a reporter's telephone call this week, Ervin played down the notion that the White House was responsible for his departure.

"Actually it was the Senate that failed to confirm me," Ervin said. "They had my nomination pending for two years and never acted on it. And had they acted on it, the recess-appointment issue would have been moot. I wouldn't have needed a recess appointment. I would have been the confirmed inspector general."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company