Aug 14, 2020 - Politics & Policy

GAO finds Chad Wolf, Ken Cuccinelli are ineligible for top DHS roles

DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf in a mask
Photo: CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and his acting deputy Ken Cuccinelli are ineligible to be serving in their positions, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) decided in a report released Friday.

Why it matters: While the finding has no immediate power, it could be important evidence in litigation over policies enacted under Wolf and Cuccinelli's leadership, said America's Voice's Ur Jaddou, who served as chief counsel to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under President Obama.

What happened: GAO found that the administration did not properly follow federal law governing how certain leadership vacancies in federal agencies can be filled.

  • The issue began when Kevin McAleenan improperly became acting DHS secretary last year following Kirstjen Nielsen's resignation.
  • Changes later made by McAleenan to the agency's order of succesion to allow Wolf and Cuccinelli to assume their current positions thus were also unauthorized.
  • "We wholeheartedly disagree with the GAO's baseless report and plan to issue a formal response to this shortly," a DHS spokesperson told Axios.

The big picture: The Trump administration has struggled to maintain permanent leadership at DHS. It's been a record 492 days since it has had a Senate-confirmed secretary.

  • The administration has circumvented vacancies in Senate-confirmed positions by setting up temporary leaders willing to carry out President Trump's political agenda — particularly on immigration.
  • A federal judge ruled earlier this year that Cuccinelli had been unlawfully appointed to lead the immigration agency USCIS.

What to watch: GAO referred the issue to the DHS' inspector general.

  • The investigation came at the request of congressional Democrats.
  • House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) called on Wolf to "immediately step down" in a statement on the decision.

Read the full GAO report.

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