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DHS Inspector General Nominee Testifies Before Senate Committee

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took its first step in filling top-level vacancies at the department this morning with the nomination hearing of a current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official, John Roth, for inspector general. The inspector general position has been vacant for three years and is one of the many positions at the department that President Barack Obama is looking to fill in 2014.

Roth, current director of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, has an extensive legal background with more than 20 years spent in the Department of Justice, including working as a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, chief of the Fraud and Public Corruption Section at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., and chief of the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section.

The DHS inspector general position was filled by acting inspector general Charles Edwards, who is under investigation by Congress for whistleblowing allegations of nepotism and abuse of power. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said that Roth would have a great challenge in improving morale within the Inspector General’s Office and “bridging the divide” within the office between employees who are making allegations against Edwards and those who deny them.

Roth said that he will remain committed to the Edwards investigation if he is confirmed and that he will work to improve the morale in the office by refocusing on DHS’s mission. “This is going to be a very significant issue that I’m going to have to face very early on,” he said, saying that it stems from a “lack of focus on mission and I think it’s very important to focus people on the very important mission that the office of the inspector general has, especially in DHS...whatever happened in the past…people are going to do their jobs, we’re going to focus on the mission, and we’re going to do this right.”

Roth also addressed in his testimony the reports that have been issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in recent months that have painted a negative view of DHS in regards to the number of vacancies in the department and low employee morale. Roth said that he has reviewed the reports and even took steps to meet with members of GAO prior to the hearing in the hopes that if confirmed, the two can work together to leverage their abilities and not duplicate their efforts in inspecting DHS.

With the background and “heart of a trial lawyer,” Roth said that he’s accustomed to defending himself and that while “the job of inspector general is very difficult to get right…it’s a very important one to get right.” If confirmed for the position, he intends to use the first 30 days as inspector general as a time for diagnostics of the department.

“It’s been my experience when you go into any job, you need to do some diagnostics…I intend to spend that first period of time doing some analysis and understanding exactly what the situation is,” Roth explained to the Senate committee. He also plans to focus on providing more follow-up within the Inspector General’s Office, bringing issues to the attention of senior leadership and notifying the oversight committees when necessary to ensure that investigations are progressing in a timely fashion.

As an example of the kind of work ethic he plans to bring to the office, Roth gave the example of his work on the 9/11 Commission where he lead the effort to look into the federal government’s preparedness for and reaction to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. His efforts focused on terrorism finance and produced an extensive report that was “acclaimed for its accuracy, its conciseness, and its utility by several committees of Congress, by the administration, and by outside experts,” he said in his testimony.

“It really was a government-wide audit,” he explained, adding that the report encompassed the entire range of government activities: intelligence, law enforcement, diplomatic, and regulatory.

A vote to confirm Roth within the Senate Homeland Security Committee has not been scheduled and those wishing to can submit comments and questions to the public record before noon tomorrow, January 9, 2014, to be considered. The last Senate confirmed inspector general for DHS was Richard Skinner, who retired in March 2011.