House homeland security oversight subcommittee grills agencies on ethics lapses

Andrew Matarrese | Contributor

WASHINGTON — Top leaders from federal agencies under fire for a growing laundry list of ethical violations skipped a House oversight subcommittee hearing Thursday, drawing the ire of both Republicans and Democrats looking for answers.

DHS says there have been 43 indictments, 108 arrests and 55 convictions arising from internal department investigations so far this year.

Some investigations include federal employees colluding with drug traffickers, gunrunners and people attempting to enter the country illegally.

“It is unfortunate the Department of Homeland Security, in the face of such serious ethical mishaps, refuses to provide witnesses from leadership to discuss these matters in open before the American people,” said Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul.

McCaul chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management, which called the hearing to examine ethical lapses in the department and its agencies.

Massachusetts Rep. William Keating, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat,  noted the tremendous costs associated with maintaining America’s homeland security apparatus and the “enormous personal intrusions” citizens have to go through when they fly.

The requested witnesses’ failure to show up “says something about how seriously they’re taking the issue,” Keating said, “or how not seriously they’re taking this issue.”

Committee members praised U.S. Customs and Border Protection for sending its acting deputy commissioner, Thomas Winkowski, to the hearing. The subcommittee had asked for policy-level leaders from the other agencies.

An agency representative said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton and his deputies were unavailable due to scheduling conflicts.

The Transportation Security Administration did not respond to multiple requests from The Daily Caller for information about why administrator John Pistole was unable to attend the hearing.

Representatives and witnesses covered a litany of ethical lapses and scandals that have plagued DHS.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement intelligence chief recently pled guilty to taking part in a kickback scheme that cost the government more than $600,000. In February another ICE agent pled guilty to 21 counts of obstruction and corruption violations related to illegally obtaining and disseminating government documents.

On 19 separate occasions, one Customs and Border Protection officer used his own security credentials to smuggle money and weapons for a drug cartel. Complaints against the agency’s employees have increased by 38 percent since 2004.

A 22-count indictment alleges four current and former Transportation Security Administration screeners took bribes and looked the other way while suitcases filled with cocaine, methamphetamines or marijuana passed through X-ray machines at Los Angeles International Airport.

McCaul noted the national security implications of the discussion.

“This is precisely what the terrorists are looking for,” he said. “All these cases that we look at … they’re trying to get things through airports. Improper screening. Improper documentation. That’s exactly what they’re trying to exploit.”

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