DHS is making ‘significant reforms’ to the employee discipline process

The reforms include overhauling agency policies regarding disciplinary penalties, according to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The reforms include overhauling agency policies regarding disciplinary penalties, according to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The effort comes in the wake of an outside oversight group's allegations of wrongdoing in the inspector general office which the IG contests.

The Homeland Security Department is making “significant reforms” to its employee misconduct discipline processes.

The Project on Government Oversight published an investigation in April  hat alleged the DHS Office of Inspector General delayed and suppressed reports about sexual assault and domestic violence, which IG Joseph Cuffari contested. According to one of the unpublished reports, more than 10,000 employees at DHS said they have experienced sexual harassment or sexual misconduct. Shortly after the stories from POGO and The New York Times, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas ordered a 45-day review of the employee accountability processes. 

“Based on the results of that review, I have directed the department to implement significant reforms to our employee misconduct discipline processes, including centralizing the decision-making process for disciplinary actions and overhauling agency policies regarding disciplinary penalties,” Mayorkas said in a statement released late on Thursday afternoon.

“Centralizing disciplinary processes will ensure that allegations of serious misconduct are handled by a dedicated group of well-trained individuals, who are not the employees’ immediate supervisors, at each DHS component agency,” the secretary continued. “Reforming our policies regarding disciplinary penalties, including by providing more specific guidance, will promote accountability and ensure consequences are consistent and appropriate based on the severity of the misconduct.” 

Mayorkas said this work is already underway and over the coming months the department will continue its engagement with labor organizations employees to make sure their due process rights are protected. 

Government Executive asked DHS officials if they had substantiated the allegations from POGO in the department’s review.

“This is exactly the kind of impact we hope for from our work. Creating meaningful accountability processes for wrongdoing at DHS is an important step forward to addressing their culture of impunity,” Sarah Turberville, director of The Constitution Project at POGO, told Government Executive. “The details of this policy will prove critical and we will need to fully understand what the changes are to make sure they stick. It’s so important that it not just cover workplace misconduct, but also official misconduct committed by law enforcement at DHS.” Turberville added that the actions by the secretary show just how “inexcusable” Cuffari’s actions were. 

"DHS [Office of Inspector General] agrees with Secretary Mayorkas that DHS should be a professional environment free of sexual harassment and other misconduct," a spokesperson for the office told Government Executive. "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."

The spokesperson also said that since Cuffari was confirmed in July 2019 all reports started and published "have met appropriate government standards" and noted that since then, the office has published several reports about workplace issues at the department and its sub-agencies. 

“Any suggestion that I demanded changes to the draft reports for improper purposes is false as is the suggestion that I suppressed evidence of widespread sexual harassment in DHS law enforcement components,” Cuffari wrote last month in a 17-page letter to lawmakers investigating the allegations. 

POGO’s staff pushed back on the claims in the letter and argued Cuffari’s responses were insufficient. 

This article has been updated with comment from the DHS inspector general office. 

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