Ranking Members Thompson and Raskin Demand Information on DHS Inspector General Cuffari’s Use of Taxpayer Funds for Retaliation Settlements
(WASHINGTON) – Committee on Oversight and Accountability Ranking Member Jamie Raskin, and Committee on Homeland Security Ranking Member Bennie G. Thompson, sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) Joseph V. Cuffari, requesting documents and details regarding his use of taxpayer funds to settle claims of retaliation against him. The request comes after the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) released a copy of the $1.17 million settlement agreement between DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) and former DHS OIG Deputy Inspector General, Jennifer Costello.
“The Committees are expanding their investigation into your failed leadership and egregious mismanagement of the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) after reports revealed that your office approved a stunning $1.17 million settlement to a former employee to resolve claims of whistleblower retaliation raised against you. A Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) deposition transcript raises serious concerns about your possibly retaliatory actions and lack of candor, improper use of taxpayer dollars, and lack of truthfulness in your communications with Congress. The Committees are requesting documents and information relating to this payment and any other settlements paid on behalf of DHS OIG in regard to your conduct or the conduct of other senior DHS OIG employees,” wrote the Ranking Members.
As Deputy Inspector General, Ms. Costello raised concerns regarding Inspector General Cuffari’s qualifications and conduct to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE)—the entity responsible for investigating allegations of wrongdoing by an Inspector General. Ms. Costello was fired by Inspector General Cuffari in June 2020 for alleged misconduct. However, a deposition transcript released by POGO casts doubt on the legitimacy of the charges cited by Inspector General Cuffari as the basis for her proposed removal.
The letter also raises serious ethics concerns and calls into question Inspector General Cuffari’s integrity and leadership after he had a subordinate approve the $1.17 million settlement payment. Federal ethics laws and regulations stipulate that agency ethics officials should provide guidance when an employee’s action raises any ethics questions, and also require that an agency ethics official be consulted when the conduct in issue involves the head of the agency.
“[I]t is deeply troubling that the individual who approved the settlement is someone whom you directly oversee and promoted to the position of Chief of Staff. This decision raises a potentially serious and flagrant abuse of your position,” continued the Ranking Members.
In addition to the $1.17 million settlement payment, Inspector General Cuffari has spent nearly $1.4 million of taxpayer money to pay for outside investigations into three senior DHS OIG employees and reportedly $500,000 for government attorneys to respond to employment litigation relating to Ms. Costello’s claims of whistleblower retaliation.
The Ranking Members are requesting DHS OIG comply with the Committees’ requests no later than August 10, 2023. They have also requested a separate briefing from Deputy Inspector General and Chief of Staff Kristen Fredricks and Chief Counsel James Read to be conducted no later than September 7, 2023.
Click here to read the letter.
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