Homeland Security Watchdog Will Get outside Review after Flawed Disaster Response Reports

By Rein, Lisa | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), June 8, 2019 | Go to article overview

Homeland Security Watchdog Will Get outside Review after Flawed Disaster Response Reports


Rein, Lisa, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


The Homeland Security watchdog has agreed to an outside review of its performance following missteps that led it to retract 13 audits of disaster responses that hid problems and instead flattered the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The outside review will be done by another federal inspector general's office to ensure that Homeland Security's monitor has improved its overall operations and oversight of FEMA, officials said.

The peer review, to be completed next year, comes after an unusual internal investigation uncovered a disturbing pattern at the oversight agency responsible for rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in the sprawling Department of Homeland Security.

John Kelly, now the acting inspector general, overrode auditors who flew to communities affected by hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other disasters from 2011 to 2016 to assess how well FEMA helped local residents recover, according to the internal investigation. It said auditors often discovered problems with the response, but Kelly, then in charge of the auditing teams, instead directed them to write what the staff dubbed "feel-good reports.

Under pressure from Congress, the inspector general's office purged the faulty reports from its website in 2017 and 2018 and acknowledged they did not comply with federal auditing standards. Then the watchdog spent 14 months examining what went wrong.

It released an internal investigation in May that found fault with Kelly, his managers and their oversight of a staff that was supposed to offer real-time oversight from the ground of FEMA's disaster response.

Kelly apologized to his staff of 600 auditors and investigators and took responsibility for failing to "set a tone that all of our products need to be fully objective.

Federal inspectors general are traditionally evaluated by their peers every three years. The Homeland Security inspector general asked to have its next review in 2020, a year early.

Following a report Thursday in The Washington Post, two top Democrats in Congress called on the inspector general's office to do better.

"We rely on [the office] for fact-based products that are invaluable in conducting oversight, and these reports did not meet the standard, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.

Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the failures underscore the urgency for the Senate to confirm a permanent inspector general.

"Any effort to gloss over real challenges ... limits the ability of federal, state and local governments to learn from their mistakes and improve performance for future disasters, Peters said in a statement.

President Donald Trump this spring nominated Joseph Cuffari, a policy adviser to Arizona Republican Gov. …

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