January 17, 2018

Duckworth Demands Answers Over DHS Refusal to Release Watchdog Report Investigating Travel Ban Implementation


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is demanding answers today over the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) refusal to release the results of an investigation by its own independent Inspector General into the Trump Administration’s chaotic and unlawful implementation of its first Muslim ban. Duckworth called on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) hold an oversight hearing on the implications of DHS’ refusal to release the report – which found the Trump Administration violated multiple court orders – and to examine the chilling effect allowing DHS, or any Federal agency, to effectively redact an entire inspector general report could have on transparency across the Federal Government. Duckworth also wrote to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) to request a survey of all inspectors general to determine whether the obstruction and delay tactics employed by DHS to undermine transparency and accountability – which former DHS Inspector General John Roth told Senator Duckworth were unprecedented in his experience – were spreading across the government.

“Allowing this Administration, and any future Administration, to block the release of information contained in an OIG report because it addresses a Federal agency’s deliberations would significantly weaken Congressional oversight, undermine transparency and render the IG Act toothless in regard to examining agency management and policy implementation decisions,” Duckworth wrote to HSGAC Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-MO). “DHS delaying the public release of the final DHS OIG report examining [the travel ban’s] implementation…harms government transparency. This obstruction also prevents Congress from understanding why DHS OIG concluded CBP violated at least two separate Federal court orders and how the current nominee to be CBP Commissioner, acting CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, oversaw CBP’s implementation efforts.”

The investigation from the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) was launched in response to a January 2017 request from Senators Duckworth, Durbin and McCaskill to initiate a comprehensive investigation into the implementation of President Trump’s first Muslim ban, which caused chaos at airports across the nation. The DHS OIG completed its investigation and delivered an 87-page report to DHS on October 6, 2017 for a routine review. However, rather than the follow the normal procedures, DHS proceeded to sit on the report with little explanation. The Department’s abnormal obstruction forced then-DHS Inspector General Roth to write to Senators Duckworth, Durbin and McCaskill in late November to express his concern with DHS’s unusual threat to invoke the deliberative process privilege and explain how this action could prevent the DHS OIG from fulfilling its requirement under the law to keep, “Congress fully and currently informed about problems and deficiencies” at the Department.

On November 29, Senator Duckworth met with Roth to discuss the report’s troubling findings, as well as the dangerous precedent that blocking the entire report’s release would set for future issues of transparency. Roth also reiterated his concern that allowing DHS to block this report would prevent Congress from understanding how and why DHS OIG concluded that the Trump Administration violated at least two separate Federal court orders. Duckworth has since called on the Trump Administration to abandon its harmful efforts to redact this report and warned of how the Department’s actions could severely weaken congressional oversight of agency mismanagement in the present and future.

If the Trump Administration follows through on its threat to invoke the deliberative process privilege to heavily redact the independent DHS OIG’s final report, it could set a chilling government-wide precedent ripe for abuse by Federal agencies seeking to hide embarrassing mismanagement, improper whistleblower retaliation and numerous other instances of waste, fraud and abuse. Covering up damaging portions of these reports in this manner would not only reduce government transparency and potentially violate the Inspector General Act of 1978, but it could prevent Congress—which often relies on these reports—from performing its constitutional oversight duties.

Senators Duckworth, Durbin and McCaskill’s original request for an investigation into the implementation of the President’s discriminatory executive order from January is available here.

A full copy of Duckworth’s letter to HSGAC is available here.

A full copy of Duckworth’s letter to CIGIE is available here.