New bill seeks to prevent Secret Service from withholding records from watchdog

The legislation introduced by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., would amend the 1978 Inspector General Act.

The legislation introduced by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., would amend the 1978 Inspector General Act. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“While I share the concerns of my colleagues about the actions of the current inspector general, it is also clear the Secret Service tried to impede the inspector general’s investigation into the events of Jan. 6,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Amid ongoing issues with investigations into the attack on the U.S. Capitol, a Senate Democrat wants to shore up records access for watchdogs and information sharing with lawmakers. 

The Homeland Security inspector general has been under fire for his handling of investigations into missing text messages from Secret Service agents and top Trump Homeland Security officials in the lead up to the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. Now, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's panel on Homeland Security, has introduced legislation aimed at fixing issues raised going forward with all IGs.

“While I share the concerns of my colleagues about the actions of the current inspector general, it is also clear the Secret Service tried to impede the inspector general’s investigation into the events of Jan. 6 by withholding records and ultimately erasing text messages,” said Murphy in a statement on Wednesday. “This legislation would prevent the Secret Service from undermining the work of the agency watchdog and stop them from keeping the American people in the dark about things they deserve to know.”

His legislation would amend the 1978 Inspector General Act to clarify that the Privacy Act and Presidential Records Act can’t be used to deny records to an IG and that the decision to deny an IG records can’t be delegated to any agency head or director. It would also require IGs to offer a briefing to the relevant congressional committees and subcommittees (or any lawmaker who requests one) on their semi-annual annual reports.

IGs are required to submit semi-annual reports to Congress for the six-months periods ending on March 31 and Sept. 30. The DHS IG office’s semi-annual reports for April 1, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2021 and Oct. 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022 included a few mentions of Jan. 6 records access issues. 

DHS IG Joseph Cuffari notified members of Congress investigating the Capitol attack on July 13 about the missing text messages, explaining they were part of a “device replacement program” and said they were erased after the IG office requested. However, according to CNN, Cuffari first learned of them in May 2021, months earlier than previously known. The Secret Service has claimed there was no wrongdoing by them and said the IG requested the messages after the data mitigation was underway. 

In an email to staff on Monday obtained by Politico, Cuffari pushed back on what he called “this onslaught of meritless criticism,” adding that “because of the U.S. Attorney General guidelines and quality standards, we cannot always publicly respond to untruths and false information about our work.”

When asked for comment, the Secret Service said the agency doesn’t comment on proposed legislation. The DHS IG office did not respond for comment. 

This article was published first on GovExec, a FederalSoup partner site ("A New Bill Seeks to Prevent the Secret Service from Withholding Records from its Watchdog.") 

NEXT STORY: Senate passes bill to root out conflicts of interest in federal contracting

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