Inspector, audit thyself

Testimony of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner David Aguilar
Charles Edwards, center, stands behind David Aguilar, former deputy commissioner at US Customs and Border Protection, at a congressional hearing on Aug. 1, 2012.

Inspector, audit thyself
By Mickey McCarter

Charles Edwards, deputy inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is in hot water.

In independent report from nonprofit watchdog Cause of Action released Monday documented misconduct by the top official in the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG), following charges from a Senate subcommittee on June 27.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, Daniel Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, called upon the president to replace Edwards and nominate a permanent inspector general for confirmation by the Senate.

A report from Cause of Action documented the accountability organization’s investigation of Edwards since last year. Prompted in part by reporting by Andrew Becker of the Center for Investigative Reporting, Cause of Action sought records from DHS on numerous allegations of misconduct by Edwards in his position as deputy IG and in nearly two years of service as acting IG.

“In sum, we have learned that Edwards has failed to honestly and appropriately conduct investigations and manage subordinates, and that he has misused public resources in violation of federal resources,” Epstein wrote to Obama on behalf of Cause of Action. “In light of these findings,…we respectfully request that you consider removing Edwards from his position.”

The organization then provided a laundry list of waste, fraud and abuse allegedly committed by Edwards, including improper travel, nepotism, destruction of federal records, disregard of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the removal of records, and a toxic work culture at DHS OIG.

Many of the allegations stem from Edwards pursuit of a doctorate degree in information systems from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the employment of his wife Madhuri Edwards at the DHS OIG.

According to Cause of Action, Edwards abused DHS funds and travel by completing doctorate coursework under the guise of conducting site checks of a nearby DHS OIG satellite office in Miramar, Fla.

“After these cursory site checks, Edwards would drive his rental car to Nova Southeastern University, check into a hotel, attend classes for two days and then fly back to Washington, DC, on a Sunday,” Epstein charged. Edwards billed his airfare and other expenses to DHS, he said.

Madhuri Edwards was employed in the DHS OIG Office of Audits. She received permission to telework from India, apparently against DHS policy, in 2009 for five months.

In 2010, Madhuri Edwards was moved into the DHS OIG Office of Emergency Management Oversight (EMO). She returned to India to telework from July to September 2010 despite being denied permission by Assistant Inspector General for EMO Matt Jadacki and his deputy Mark McLaughlin.

“After becoming acting inspector general, Edwards dismantled the EMO because of an asserted lack of appropriated funds. This forced Jadacki and McLaughlin into retirement and required transferring approximately 20 employees to the Office of Audits,” Epstein wrote. “Edwards later reconstituted the office, returning everyone but the two supervisors to EMO. Temporarily dismantling EMO may have been retaliation for Jadacki and McLaughlin’s refusal of Madhuri Edwards’ 2010 telework request.”

Edwards disregarded FOIA requests from Becker and Cause of Action, prompting a lawsuit by the nonprofit on June 11. Cause of Action sought telephone records from Madhuri Edwards, who allegedly used her government-issued Blackberry for extensive personal calls to her husband from India during her telework assignments there.

Although not necessarily a crime, Cause of Action further accused Edwards of creating a “toxic culture” at DHS OIG through suppressing dissent. The OIG investigation of the Secret Service prostitution scandal of April 2012 was particularly troubling, the nonprofit’s report said.

“One insider described the investigation into the Secret Service prostitution scandal as particularly dysfunctional; senior employees have accused on another of altering report results while multiple lower-level employees have complained of sexual harassment,” Epstein wrote.

To address these problems, the White House must remove Edwards and nominate a permanent inspector general, Cause of Action insisted.

“The absence of an inspector general is, in this case, even more harmful because the four remaining leadership positions at DHS OIG are also filled by individuals working in an ‘acting’ capacity. This ongoing leadership vacuum has created a lack of accountability at the highest levels of the DHS OIG, likely contributing to Edwards’ persistent misconduct,” Epstein said.

Senate investigation

The nonprofit’s charges follow similar accusations by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs financial and contracting oversight subcommittee. Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), leaders of the subcommittee, wrote a letter to Edwards on June 27 to demand documentation and interviews related to the allegations.

Over the past year, the senators said, they “have been alerted by numerous whistleblowers to allegations of misconduct by you in your position as acting inspector general and as deputy inspector general.”

Their letter to Edwards listed violations of anti-nepotism laws and policies in employment of his wife and the abuse of DHS resources in pursuit of his doctorate degree.

The lawmakers specified to Edwards allegations of “misuse of OIG staff to work on school assignments and write your PhD dissertation paper and the misuse of OIG bonuses to reward staff members who assisted you with your program work.” He also misused DHS resources to assist his wife in pursuit of her own PhD, they alleged.

Edwards further abused his authority and agency resources with respect to outside employment as an adjunct professor at Capitol College in Laurel, Md., as he used “agency personnel to complete lesson plans and compile homework assignments and tests,” the senators wrote.

McCaskill and Johnson also raised the investigation of Secret Service personnel in the prostitution scandal, accusing Edwards of being “susceptible to political pressure” in reports to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on Sept. 26, 2012, and to the public on Jan. 29, 2013.

Finally, Edwards shared confidential whistleblower information with agency officials, potentially in violation of law, resulting in adverse actions against the personnel with grievances, and used administrative leave to penalize DHS OIG employees who questioned or brought attention to his actions and instructions.

The senators demanded Edwards provide all requested material regarding their allegations no later than July 19.

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