Congress is pressuring the Bush administration to submit to a Senate vote or replace the chief financial officer of the Department of Homeland Security because of concerns about his qualifications.
Andrew B. Maner, 35, has been on the job since January 2004, after serving as chief of staff to the head of the department's Customs and Border Protection bureau, but has not been nominated to undergo Senate confirmation.
House and Senate aides of both parties on panels that oversee the department privately question Maner's qualifications to manage its finances, amid criticisms by congressional auditors about the $40 billion agency's fiscal troubles and the aftermath of the Gulf Coast hurricanes. Homeland Security has one of the largest federal budgets, which was recently augmented by a $62 billion hurricane package. Publicly, key senators and the chairman of a critical House committee have urged the administration to formally nominate Maner so he can face a vote -- or replace him.
"It is crucial the CFO be subject to the Senate's confirmation process to ensure that person is fully qualified," said Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.).
Although Maner holds a master's degree in business administration from Northwestern University, his background was in communications and political science before he served as a press assistant in President George H.W. Bush's White House. He later worked for nearly three years as a vice president of development and sales at a supply chain services company, where his older brother became a managing partner.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) -- chairman and ranking Democrat of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, respectively -- led eight senior committee members in both parties in calling on Secretary Michael Chertoff on Oct. 21 to submit Maner to a Senate vote or find a new CFO. Rep. Todd R. Platts (R-Pa.), chairman of a House Government Reform subcommittee on financial management, made a similar demand earlier.
Lawmakers say that Chertoff's department is violating a law passed last year requiring Maner to be confirmed or replaced as of April. The law requires top financial officers at 23 agencies to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate; only Homeland Security has not complied.
"In July I received public assurances from senior DHS officials that they would have a nominee by the end of August," Platts said. "It is long past time that the department abide by the law."
Lieberman spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said: "The administration should follow the law, in this case, particularly, given the enormous amount of money the DHS CFO will be managing, almost twice its annual budget."
On Oct. 28, Michael P. Jackson, Chertoff's deputy, wrote senators assuring them of Maner's "terrific leadership" and "outstanding" performance but added: "We have been actively engaged in selecting and finalizing the Chief Financial Officer position at DHS. We expect an announcement regarding this selection soon."
"Andy Maner is thorough, professional and relentless in his commitment to our mission," Jackson said last week. Chertoff and his predecessor, Tom Ridge, both asked Maner to stay on in the past year, said Chertoff spokesman Russ Knocke, who added that Maner is contemplating offers from elsewhere in government and the private sector.
Undersecretary for Management Janet Hale recruited Maner and praised his understanding of finance and government, noting that he had steered troubled customs agencies back to fiscal stability, managed emergency spending plans for Hurricane Katrina and saved millions with financial controls.
Financial problems have caused turmoil at Homeland Security since the department's formation three years ago. For Chertoff, the dispute over the chief financial officer underscores persistent trouble he has had in filling key jobs at the top of the agency, eight months after taking it over. Critics focused on the lack of experienced leaders at a key Homeland Security agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose director Michael D. Brown resigned after the government's poor response to Katrina.
In July, congressional auditors reported that the department failed to submit proper financial statements. Although the Government Accountability Office said the errors were "easily addressed," it tasked the department's inspector general and contractors to help Maner's office meet requirements.
Poor financial management has led to operational breakdowns. At the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, which deals with the smuggling of guns, drugs and people, agents were left without money last year to put gas in patrol cars or to use cell phones. The bureau was forced for a time to freeze hiring, training, vehicle maintenance and purchases of supplies and equipment.
The cause was a budgeting shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars when ICE was reorganized. But the results have bled into the rest of the 180,000-worker DHS, consuming managers and affecting other accounts.
Congressional investigators have expressed skepticism about the department's ability to implement a new $229 million accounting system. And those problems predate FEMA's billion-dollar contracting problems after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"He doesn't have the kind of background one would hope a CFO at a $40 billion government entity would have," said a senior Republican congressional aide who asked not to be identified because of committee policy that only elected members speak publicly.
Maner was elevated to the financial post after serving as top aide to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner. He began handling trade relations in 2002 and then helped oversee enforcement operations, budget and management of the $6 billion, 40,000-worker agency and its transition into the department.
Researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.