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Homeland Security Department Will Make Changes to Its Disciplinary Process

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security introduced on Thursday that it will overhaul the disciplinary course of for its staff after The New York Times reported that the company’s inspector basic eliminated damaging findings from investigative reviews about home violence and sexual misconduct dedicated by staff.

“The deeply concerning reports this spring underscored the need for urgent action,” Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland safety secretary, said in a statement that quoted the Times article, including that the adjustments would come with “centralizing the decision-making process for disciplinary actions” in order that “allegations of serious misconduct are handled by a dedicated group of well-trained individuals, who are not the employees’ immediate supervisors.”

Mr. Mayorkas introduced a overview of the division’s disciplinary course of in April, after The Times revealed its article; it was primarily based on inner paperwork first obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, an impartial watchdog group in Washington.

One inner D.H.S. investigation discovered that greater than 10,000 staff of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration had skilled sexual harassment or sexual misconduct at work — greater than one-third of these surveyed, in accordance to a draft report.

The draft additionally described a sample whereby the companies used money funds, with payouts as excessive as $255,000, to settle sexual harassment complaints with out investigating or disciplining the perpetrators.

But prime aides to the division’s inspector basic, Joseph V. Cuffari, mentioned in written feedback that the findings detailing sexual misconduct ought to be eliminated as a result of they have been “inflammatory” or have been “questioning the disciplinary outcome in these cases.”

Mr. Cuffari additionally directed his workers to take away components of one other draft report on home violence dedicated by officers within the division’s legislation enforcement companies as a result of it was “second-guessing D.H.S. disciplinary decisions without full facts.”

The introduced reforms underscore a deepening rift between the Homeland Security Department and its inspector basic. While Mr. Mayorkas has taken steps to handle the allegations within the reviews, Mr. Cuffari and different senior officers within the inspector basic’s workplace have as a substitute both downplayed the significance of the findings or fiercely defended their removing.

The inspector basic’s workplace “agrees with Secretary Mayorkas that D.H.S. should be a professional environment free of sexual harassment and other misconduct,” a press release from Mr. Cuffari’s workplace mentioned. “We also support the secretary’s commitment to promote accountability. We look forward to reviewing the significant reforms the secretary directed the department to implement, and we will continue to do our part to oversee these matters in the department.”

Inspectors basic are impartial, inner watchdogs for federal companies, and Homeland Security officers have mentioned that they have been beforehand unaware of the reviews’ omitted findings.

In a letter despatched to the Senate Judiciary Committee final month, Mr. Cuffari described an agency that had been paralyzed by dysfunction, blaming senior officers in his workplace who oversaw the investigations by identify for intentionally withholding info from him — in addition to criticizing the “intransigence” of the inspectors who drafted the reviews.

Mr. Cuffari mentioned within the letter that he might by no means launch the report on sexual misconduct — which has remained unpublished since a nearly-complete draft was circulated in December 2020 — as a result of its findings at the moment are too outdated.

“The report has been plagued by problems from the outset,” Mr. Cuffari wrote, including that “these problems caused serious delays, and as a result, the information in the most recent draft report does not satisfy the ‘currency’ criterion found in section 2 of the Inspector General Act.”

Instead, Mr. Cuffari mentioned his workplace would begin one other investigation of sexual misconduct that would come with a brand new survey of D.H.S. staff. He has additionally provided to testify earlier than the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning the two investigations of home violence and sexual misconduct. The congressional committees investigating Mr. Cuffari haven’t publicly responded to that provide.

Gordon S. Heddell, an inspector basic for the Department of Defense below President Barack Obama and for the Department of Labor below President George W. Bush, criticized Mr. Cuffari for publicly blaming his subordinates, including that an inspector basic ought to take accountability and handle issues with out undermining his subordinates.

“I would never have written this,” mentioned Mr. Heddell, who now works as a non-public guide. “To me, what he’s saying is, ‘I’m leading a very dysfunctional office.’”

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