WASHINGTON — The top two officials in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were improperly appointed to the posts under federal law by the Trump administration, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog said Friday.
The Government Accountability Office says acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and his acting deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, are ineligible to run the agency under a federal law known as the Vacancy Reform Act.
GAO said it has asked the DHS inspector general to review the situation and determine if the violation affects decisions they have taken at a time when the Department of Homeland Security has been at the forefront of key administration initiatives on immigration and law enforcement.
Both men should resign, according to Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
“GAO’s damning opinion paints a disturbing picture of the Trump Administration playing fast and loose by bypassing the Senate confirmation process to install ideologues,” the two Democrats said in a joint statement.
DHS had no immediate comment.
The GAO analysis traces the violation back to a tumultuous period at DHS in 2019 when then Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned. It found that she was improperly replaced by Kevin McAleenan under the rules governing succession in federal agencies.
McAleenan altered the rules of succession after he was subsequently removed but GAO’s legal analysis concluded that the later appointments of Wolf and Cuccinelli were invalid.
DHS is the third-largest Cabinet agency with about 240,000 employees.