Joseph Cuffari, President Trump’s nominee to be Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, told a Senate panel on Tuesday that if confirmed he will be an independent investigator who will remain accountable to Congress.
“I view the role of the Inspector General as a non-partisan, fact finder to lay out the truth as the facts are presented,” Cuffari told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at his confirmation hearing. Priority investigations will be based on immediate negative impacts to public safety and national security, he said.
Cuffari was nominated by Trump last Nov. 1. He currently serves as the policy adviser for Military and Veterans Affairs to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and held the same position for the state’s previous governor, Jan Brewer (R). Cuffari spent more than 40 years in the Air Force, Reserves and Arizona National Guard and had assignments in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Defense Department IG office.
Cuffari appears to have broad bi-partisan support from committee members.
Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) warned at the outset of the hearing that at times IG’s have been “captured” agencies and lost their independence, highlighting previous examples at DHS and the Veterans Administration. He said it’s “crucial” for IGs to be independent to air the “dirty laundry” of the departments and agencies they serve in.
To maintain his independence, Cuffari told Johnson his “ultimate responsibility is to follow the constitution and determine that the laws of the land are being followed.”
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the committee’s ranking member, said in the Trump administration there have been “some very troubling attempts to undermine the statutory independence of IGs across the federal government. He asked Cuffari whether “it’s ever appropriate for an agency official to direct an inspector general to drop or change a planned or ongoing inquiry?”
“I think it’s appropriate for the inspector general to follow the Inspector General Act,” Cuffari replied. “It provides, as you know, the relief if such an instance were to occur… but if that were to occur there’s a relief valve built into the IG Act that permits the IG to go directly to Congress and express their concerns.”
Cuffari also said that if confirmed he will ensure that the DHS IG’s whistleblower office is “robustly staffed, that they screen incoming complaints and report them to me for evaluation.”
The DHS IG position is currently being filled by John Kelly, who has served the role in an acting capacity since December 2017. Kelly was the deputy IG before being named the acting chief.