The Trump administration increasingly depends on filling top positions with temporary ones, avoiding criticism from lawmakers. The Department of Homeland Security – the third largest federal agency – is no exception. It has not had a Senate-confirmed secretary since Kirstjen Nielsen, who resigned in April 2019.
As of 2017, the ministry has had five secretaries – only two of which have been confirmed by the Senate: John Kelly and Nielsen. Others have occupied a role in a capacity to act, often leaving the leaders of the department at the will of the President and as a result more prone to politicization.
A lawyer from the Justice Department said at Friday’s trial that the Law Office will review GAO̵7;s opinion and come to a decision on it.
Out of the top 27 roles at DHS, 10 are taking on acting roles. The department’s three main immigration agencies – Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services – have been led by action officials for over a year.
The Federal Vacancy Reform Act regulates how federal vacancies can be filled. However, despite GAO’s findings, the government is not legally bound to act on it. It is up to the courts, where there have been pending cases that challenge Wolf and Cuccinelli’s appointments.
Shortly after it was released, the GAO report was brought in a court hearing on challenges against asylum rules introduced under Wolf. The lawsuit also raises questions about Wolf’s authority.
“When reading GAO’s opinion, it’s not binding but it’s keeping a pretty close eye on what I’m thinking about this matter, it’s great that we’re on the 500th day and we haven’t yet. has a secretary nominated by the president and endorsed by the Senate, ”said Judge Paula Xinis of the District Court of Maryland.
Attorney Jane Andersen of the Ministry of Justice emphasized that GAO is not tied to the executive branch.
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wolf, who previously served as secretary of the Office of Strategy, Policy and Planning at DHS, took on the role of action secretary with Cuccinelli as his number two.
“Because the official did not correctly assume the title of Acting Secretary at the time, subsequent modifications to that official’s succession order were invalid and the officials assumed their positions according to Those modifications, including Chad Wolf and Kenneth Cuccinelli, were named by reference to an invalid succession, “the report concluded, noting that the legality of actions was taken by the officials. Function was transferred to DHS Inspector General.
The GAO also referred to the question of who would assume the role of the acting secretary and the senior officer acting as the deputy secretary to the DHS inspector general.
Friday’s report was prompted by House committee chairmen Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney, both of which have repeatedly criticized the lack of standing leadership at DHS.
After publishing the GAO’s findings, lawmakers called the report “damnable”.
“Before this decision, Mr. Wolf should immediately resign and return to the Senate-confirmed position as Minister of Strategy, Policy and Planning. The President should appoint a career political official to govern. The ministry was provisional and followed the Constitution by quickly nominating a Permanent Secretary, “wrote the presiding officers.
“For Mr. Cuccinelli, a political expert invited by the President to take on many senior roles at DHS for which he was unfortunately unqualified, he should immediately resign as the Federal government and award his official non-professional Twitter account. “
This story has been updated with feedback from the Department of Justice.