Former inspector general still on paid leaveBy Susan Crabtree October 15, 2014
The former Homeland Security Department acting inspector general remains on taxpayer-paid leave five months after a Senate report accused him of playing politics with an investigation into the Secret Service prostitution scandal.
A DHS spokeswoman on Tuesday told the Washington Examiner that Charles Edwards remains on paid administrative leave.
She did not respond to multiple inquiries about how long the administrative leave will last, why the department has not fired Edwards, or whether the agency will allow him to remain on paid administrative leave until he retires.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who chairs a subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform panel, wants to know the details of the administrative leave.
Last week he sent a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson demanding to know the exact date Edwards’ leave began, how much the department is paying him and when it will end.
“I want to know how much time they plan on keeping him on leave,” he told the Examiner.
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson placed Edwards on administrative leave in May after a bipartisan Senate panel concluded that he had “jeopardized the independence” of his office and “delayed and altered” investigations and reports to please senior department officials. That report went public in late April.
In the middle of the bipartisan Senate probe, conducted by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight, Edwards resigned his post in December and was transferred to the Science and Technology division of DHS.
A summary of his biography, which remained on the website until it was taken down last week, says Edwards served as deputy inspector general from Jan. 4, 2013, to Dec. 17, 2013. It did not state his current employment status.
Cheri Cannon, a partner with the law firm Tully Rinckey who specializes in federal labor and employment law, said government agencies should use administrative leave sparingly and only in extreme cases when the employee is a danger to themselves, others or government property.
“It’s a taxpayer-expense issue,” she said. “The question is how long [is DHS] going to leave this person on administrative leave to play golf or await retirement given that there are congressional findings of misconduct.”
She noted that administrative leave is reserved for limited situations when the agency feels that the employee is a danger to themselves or others or in cases in which national security clearances are revoked and employees cannot do their jobs because they can’t use their clearances.
Officials also may decide to place a government employee on administrative leave when they no longer trust the person to have access to government computers.
Placing someone on administrative leave that extends beyond three months is rare but sometimes occurs when there’s an ongoing investigation into the alleged misconduct.
Officials who are keeping the person on administrative leave must have good reason to do so beyond three months because federal law prohibits government employees from using congressionally appropriated funds for purposes that exceed the original intention.
Edwards now faces new scrutiny for the way he conducted the Secret Service prostitute probe after news broke last week that the White House never acknowledged a former aide’s involvement in the prostitution scandal even though the Secret Service provided detailed evidence suggesting he may have been.
According to a Washington Post report, a lead DHS inspector general investigator accused superiors who worked for Edwards of suppressing angles that could be damaging to Obama’s 2012 re-election chances while the campaign was in full swing. The investigator also said he turned up evidence that the name on the aide’s hotel registration matched the name of a woman advertising herself as a prostitute online.
Ten Secret Service agents lost their jobs because of the scandal. The aide who was a young unpaid volunteer on Obama’s advance team when he was implicated in the prostitution allegations, went on to serve in another position in the administration, the Post reported.
The aide denies that he hired a prostitute.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said late Wednesday that the White House conducted an internal review of the prostitution scandal and “did not identify any inappropriate behavior on the part of the White House advance team.”
“At the time, White House counsel requested the Secret Service send over any information related to White House personnel engaging in inappropriate conduct – and indeed that is how the hotel log emerged, an analogous version of which proved to falsely implicate another agent who was subsequently cleared,” he said.
Schultz also denied suggestions that the White House interfered with the inspector general’s investigation.
The Senate report released April 24 found that Edwards, who served as acting inspector general from 2011 until December, had directed his staff to alter and delay investigations and reports to please top political appointees within the department who were in a position to influence President Obama to permanently elevate him to the top post.
The allegations leveled against Edwards exacerbated watchdog groups’ concerns about Obama’s failure to fill inspector-general vacancies.
There are currently nine inspector general vacancies throughout the executive branch, including at the Interior Department, the Agency for International Development and the Financial Deposit Insurance Corporation, according to the Project On Government Oversight, which tracks current vacancies.