DHS/OIG Recommends Disciplinary Action For Ex-Deputy COS Christine Ciccone For Failure to Cooperate With State/OIG Review

Posted: 3:11 am EST

 

On February 13, 2019, Acting DHS/OIG John V. Kelly wrote a memo to DHS Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen concerning DHS Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Christine Ciccone’s “failure to cooperate with Inspector General review.” Prior to moving to DHS, Ms. Ciccone served as deputy chief of staff to then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (also see Tillerson’s Redesign Chief Leaves Office After Three Months, Meet the New Redesigner-in-ChiefRex Tillerson’s Inner Circle Photo Album, Say Cheese Con Quezo!

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, joined by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, left, and Deputy Chief of Staff Christine Ciccone, prepare for a meeting with U.S./Alaska Permanent Participants to the Arctic Council in Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 10, 2017. [U.S. Air Force photo / Public Domain]

DHS/OIG Kelly also formally recommended that Secretary Nielsen “take appropriate disciplinary action against Ms. Ciccone for failing to cooperate with an Inspector General review.” Excerpt from memo:

Beginning in September 2018, our colleagues at the Department of State Office of Inspector General (State OIG) have been attempting to interview Ms. Ciccone. At the request of several congressional committees,1 State OIG is reviewing allegations of prohibited personnel practices that occurred while Ms. Ciccone was the State Department’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Ms. Ciccone is a key witness in State OIG’s review; however, she has been unwilling to schedule an interview despite repeated requests made to both her and her attorney over many months.
[…]
Pursuant to the Inspector General Act (IG Act), we have assisted State OIG in attempting to schedule an interview with Ms. Ciccone and have enlisted Acting Deputy Secretary Grady in our efforts. We very much appreciate the Deputy Secretary’s assistance and her instruction to Ms. Ciccone that she must participate in the interview. However, as of today, Ms. Ciconne has not scheduled a time to meet with State OIG staff. On Monday February 11, 2019, staff from State OIG, along with DHS OIG Deputy Inspector General Jennifer Costello, met with congressional staff to inform them of Ms. Ciccone’s failure to cooperate.
[…]
DHS has implemented the requirements of the Act in DHS Management Directive 0810.1, which in part states that DHS employees will be subject to disciplinary action if they refuse to provide documents or information or to answer questions posed by the OIG. Ms. Ciccone’s handling of this situation is not consistent with her obligations as an employee under this directive. Further, Ms. Ciccone’s refusal to comply with State OIG’s request for an interview sets a dangerous precedent contrary to the fundamental tenants of the IG Act, with the potential to undermine our critical oversight function. Therefore, I recommend that you take appropriate disciplinary action against Ms. Ciccone under Management Directive 0810.1.

The HFAC statement notes that this review relates to the “ongoing State Department Office of Inspector General review of allegations of politically-motivated retaliation against career State Department employees.”

The HFAC statement provides a background:

  • Multiple whistleblowers have contacted our Committees to call attention to allegations of politically-motivated personnel actions during Ms. Ciccone’s tenure as Deputy Chief of Staff at the State Department.  Chairman Cummings, Chairman Engel, and Ranking Member Menendez reported these practices to State OIG in multiple letters in 2018, as well as in letters to and hearings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
  • State OIG opened a review of politically-motivated personnel practices in response to congressional requests.
  • During the pendency of the Inspector General’s review, Ms. Ciccone left the State Department to join the Department of Homeland Security as the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs.  Though she left her position at the State Department, she remains in federal service and is obligated to cooperate with the Inspector General’s inquiry, per the terms of her home agency’s management directive requiring that all agency employees fully cooperate with OIG reviews.
  • On February 11, 2019, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Oversight Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee received a briefing from State OIG regarding Ms. Ciccone’s refusal to submit to State OIG’s interview requests.  State OIG stated that it was in possession of documentary evidence demonstrating Ms. Ciccone’s involvement in personnel actions against at least three career employees, but was unable to complete its review without Ms. Ciccone’s interview. State OIG noted that given her senior position, Ms. Ciccone’s refusal to submit to an interview was “unprecedented.”

According to the a DHS Directive, employees  will —

— be subject to criminal prosecution and disciplinary action, up to and including removal, for knowingly and willfully furnishing false or misleading information to investigating officials;

— be subject to disciplinary action for refusing to provide documents or information or to answer questions posed by investigating officials or to provide a signed sworn statement if requested by the OIG, unless questioned as the subject of an investigation that can lead to criminal prosecution.

What should be most interesting to see is how DHS and Congress will deal with this case. It would send a signal to the rest of the bureaucracy how serious they are in their support of government oversight, and whether or not there are real consequences for failure to cooperate with Inspector General reviews.

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Snapshot: Number of “T” Visa Applications, FY2005-2014

Posted: 12:24 am EDT
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Via DHS/OIG:

Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) of 2000 (Pub. L. 106-386). Among other provisions, the Act created the T nonimmigrant status (T visa) to provide temporary immigration benefits to foreign nationals and aliens who are victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons.  To be eligible for a T visa, victims must (a) be in the United States on account of trafficking; (b) face extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if removed; and (c) with two exceptions, comply with reasonable requests for assistance from law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the acts of trafficking.

USCIS data on trafficking victims were limited to foreign national victims who had applied for T or U nonimmigrant status. This included individuals who had entered the United States legally as visitors, temporary workers, or others without lawful status.8 According to USCIS data, fewer than 1,000 foreign national victims applied for T visas each year from 2005 to 2014. Figure 3 shows a steady increase in T visa applications for this timeframe. However, this number remains small in comparison with the estimated hundreds of thousands of human trafficking victims in the United States, and is far below the 5,000 T visas that Congress sets aside for human trafficking victims every year.

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As depicted in table 1, our analysis of USCIS data from October 1, 2005, through September 2, 2014, showed that 3 percent of T visa applicants were minors while 61 percent were between 30 and 49 years old. T visa applicants were evenly divided by marital status and almost equally divided in terms of gender. Further, 41 percent of T visa applicants were from three Asian countries. The Philippines had the highest number of applicants (20 percent), followed by Mexico with 16 percent. Most T visa applicants did not report the method by which they entered the United States, although 10 percent self- reported they had no lawful status at the time of application. While the information pertains only to those victims who applied for T visa status, it does shed some light on the characteristics of foreign national victims and their origins, and could be useful in identifying human trafficking activity.

 

When the Boss Is Last to Know: Chaffetz Snoops at the Secret Service

Posted: 1:06 pm EDT
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The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General has completed its independent investigation into allegations that one or more Secret Service agents improperly accessed internal databases to look up the 2003 employment application of Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Inspector General has confirmed that between March 24 and April 2, 2015, on approximately 60 different occasions, 45 Secret Service employees accessed Chaffetz’ sensitive personal information. The OIG concluded that only 4 of the 45 employees had an arguable legitimate need to access the information.

Here is the IG’s conclusion:

This episode reflects an obvious lack of care on the part of Secret Service personnel as to the sensitivity of the information entrusted to them. It also reflects a failure by the Secret Service management and leadership to understand the potential risk to the agency as events unfolded and react to and prevent or mitigate the damage caused by their workforce’s actions.

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via dhs/oig

All personnel involved – the agents who inappropriately accessed the information, the mid-level supervisors who understood what was occurring, and the senior leadership of the Service – bear responsibility for what occurred. Better and more frequent training is only part of the solution. Ultimately, while the responsibility for this activity can be fairly placed on the shoulders of the agents who casually disregarded important privacy rules, the Secret Service leadership must do a better job of controlling the actions of its personnel. The Secret Service leadership must demonstrate a commitment to integrity. This includes setting an appropriate tone at the top, but more importantly requires a commitment to establishing and adhering to standards of conduct and ethical and reasonable behavior. Standards of conduct and ethics are meaningful only if they are enforced and if deviations from such standards are dealt with appropriately.

It doesn’t take a lawyer explaining the nuances of the Privacy Act to know that the conduct that occurred here – by dozens of agents in every part of the agency – was simply wrong. The agents should have known better. Those who engaged in this behavior should be made to understand how destructive and corrosive to the agency their actions were. These agents work for an agency whose motto – “worthy of trust and confidence” – is engraved in marble in the lobby of their headquarters building. Few could credibly argue that the agents involved in this episode lived up to that motto. Given the sensitivity of the information with which these agents are entrusted, particularly with regard to their protective function, this episode is deeply disturbing.

Additionally, it is especially ironic, and troubling, that the Director of the Secret Service was apparently the only one in the Secret Service who was unaware of the issue until it reached the media. At the March 24th hearing, he testified that he was “infuriated” that he was not made aware of the March 4th drinking incident. He testified that he was “working furiously to try to break down these barriers where people feel that they can’t talk up the chain.” In the days after this testimony, 18 supervisors, including his Chief of Staff and the Deputy Director, were aware of what was occurring. Yet, the Director himself did not know. When he became aware, he took swift and decisive action, but too late to prevent his agency from again being subject to justified criticism.

Read the full report here. Check out Appendix 1 for the chronological access to the Chaffetz record which includes multiple field offices, including the London office. Appendix 2 is the timeline of record access.

We can’t remember anything like this happening in the recent past.  There was the 1992 passportgate, of course, which involves a presidential candidate, but that’s not quite the same. In 2009, the DOJ said that a ninth individual pleaded guilty for illegally accessing numerous confidential passport application files, although it was for what’s considered “idle curiosity.”

Whether the intent of the Chaffetz record breach was to embarrass a sitting congressman or curiosity (not everyone who looked at the files leak it to the media), the files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and access by employees is strictly limited to official government duties. Only 4 of the 45 employees who did access the Chaffetz records had a legitimate reason to access the protected information. If the DOJ pursued 9 State Department employees for peeking at the passport records of politicians and celebrities, we can’t imagine that it could simply look away in this case. Particularly in this case.  Winter is definitely coming to the Secret Service.

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Snapshot: Top Ten L-1 Employers, FY 2002 – FY 2011

— By Domani Spero

The top employers on this list — TataCognizantWipro and Infosys (with the exception of IBM India Private Limited ranked #8 on H-1Bs) are also the top users of new H-1B visa application approvals in fiscal year 2012 according to Computerworld.

via DHS/OIG

An L-1 employee sent to work temporarily in the United States by the petitioning employer must qualify in one of two subcategories:

  • L-1A – an alien performing services in a managerial or executive capacity.
  • L-1B – an alien performing services as a specialized knowledge worker.

Most L-1 petitions are adjudicated by Immigration Services Officers (ISOs) at the California and Vermont Service Centers. After USCIS approves a petition for a beneficiary who is overseas, a Department of State (DOS) consular officer interviews the individual at a U.S. consulate or embassy. Immigration Officers at ports of entry have the last say on whether an alien carrying a visa is allowed entry into the United States.

 

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