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Facing divisions, DHS IG nominee pledges focus on mission

Jan. 8, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments

President Obama’s choice for Department of Homeland Security inspector general said Wednesday that, if confirmed, he will strive to unite employees in the fractured IG’s office.

“My goal is to try to have people set the reset button,” John Roth told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at a confirmation hearing. “Whatever happened in the past has happened in the past.”

While taking no position on the controversy surrounding the office’s previous chief, who resigned last month under the cloud of a congressional investigation, Roth said he would insist that employees do their jobs and focus on the mission.

“We’re going to get this thing done right,” he said. During the hearing, Roth won bipartisan praise from lawmakers. The committee could vote on forwarding his nomination to the full Senate as early as next week, Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., said.

The IG’s office, which has some 700 employees and oversees one of the largest federal agencies, has been without a permanent chief for almost three years.

Roth, who previously held a variety of Justice Department posts, has headed the Food and Drug Administration’s office of criminal investigations since 2012. That office, too, had been without a permanent director for several years, he said in written answers to a committee questionnaire released at the hearing, adding that there had been allegations of mismanagement as well.

“With the help of my management team, I was able to resolve the issues, improve morale and increase the efficiency of the office,” he said.

Charles Edwards, who had served as the interim IG since 2011, resigned last month, days before he was scheduled to testify at a Senate subcommittee hearing into alleged impropriety, including allegations that he watered down audit findings in response to outside pressure. Edwards, who has declined interview requests, said in a statement last summer that he was confident that the charges against would be found to be “completely without merit.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who chairs the governmental affairs oversight subcommittee that had been investigating Edwards, said in a Wednesday interview that she understood he is now working at DHS’s science and technology directorate. The subcommittee plans to release a report on the investigation’s findings soon, McCaskill added.

Obama nominated Roth to become permanent inspector general in November. Whatever his skills as a turnaround artist, they will likely be tested if he is confirmed for the job. On the questionnaire, Roth noted that the most recent employee viewpoint survey showed that more than one-third of the IG office’s workforce is considering leaving for another agency within the next year.

“This would represent an unacceptable loss of talent and experience at a time when [the inspector general’s office] most needs them,” Roth wrote.

By McCaskill’s reading, the office is split into two camps: Those hired by and loyal to Edwards and those who raised the accusations against him. Asked how he would handle that division, Roth acknowledged that it will be “a very significant issue that I'm going to have to face early on.”

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