Senators from both sides of the aisle lauded President Obama’s nominee to be the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general — a post that has been mired by controversy in recent years.
John Roth, who oversees the Food and Drug Administration’s office of criminal investigations, testified before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday, in what was largely a friendly hearing.
“I’ve said to some of our staff here”¦ if you are as good as an IG as you are as a witness, we could be in pretty good hands,” said Chairman Tom Carper, D-Md., toward the end of the hearing.
If confirmed — a move senators in both parties predicted — Roth would be the first Senate-confirmed inspector general the department has had in almost three years. Senators gave Roth a laundry list of issues they would like him to focus on including border security, information technology, and case backlog.
Charles Edwards, the previous acting inspector general, stepped down in December. Edwards was under investigation by auditors, and faced allegations of abuse of power, withholding documents, misspending of funds, nepotism, and making his staff do his homework for his Ph.D.
But Edwards hasn’t been the only controversial figure within the department. If confirmed, Roth will oversee an investigation into Alejandro Mayorkas, the deputy secretary at DHS. Mayorkas is being investigated in connection to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s EB-5 program. EB-5 visas are given to investors who invest at minimum between $500,000 and $1 million in a business.
Congressional staffers told the Associated Press last year that investigators are examining what, if any, role Mayorkas had in helping former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s brother, Anthony Rodham, get an investor visa for a Chinese executive, despite previous rejections.
Senators touched on that investigation during their comments to Roth.
“In the IG’s communications with Congress in what circumstances would it be appropriate to share informations with members or staff of one party, but not the other,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asked, referencing the Mayorkas investigation. In that case, whistleblowers contacted the committee’s minority staff, but not the majority staff.
“The minute you try to play ball with one side or the other”¦ That means an immediate loss of credibility,” McCaskill added.
The Department of Homeland Security has been plagued by low morale and leadership vacancies, and multiple senators classified the department as something of a work in progress. Roth said he was “under no illusions” about the myriad of challenges he’ll face if confirmed.
DHS ranked last in overall satisfaction amongst 19 large federal agencies, according to a report released late last year.