A senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary committee on Friday called into question the leadership abilities of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, expressing “outrage” at what he called the department’s questionable response to sequestration — including the release of detainees from detention centers across the country.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas also questioned in a letter to Ms. Napolitano the issuance of furlough notices to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel, demanding a list of alternative cost-saving measures that were considered, an explanation as to why DHS is targeting CBP instead of non-security personnel for furlough, and a description of all charges that were being pursued against all released detainees.
“These actions call into question the department’s commitment to its core missions and raise serious concerns about the judgment of DHS leadership,” he wrote. “I would urge you to follow OMB Guidance and look at alternative ways to implement the requirements of sequestration, including renewed efforts to eliminate wasteful and duplicative spending not aligned with core missions.”
Mr. Cornyn reminded Ms. Napolitano in the letter that under sequestration, the department is required to identify approximately $3.1 billion in cuts for fiscal 2013, a 5.1 percent reduction of total discretionary spending. He said that in written testimony submitted to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Ms. Napolitano indicated that CBP would have to reduce its work hours “by the equivalent of over 5,000 Border Patrol agents and the equivalent of over 2,750 CBP Officers.”
He also wrote that on Tuesday, Ms. Napolitano warned air travelers to expect delays in airport processing time of “between 150 and 200 percent” due to elimination of overtime and furloughs for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and other airport agents.
He said that in a letter that same day, the Homeland Security boss had told Texas Gov. Rick Perry how sequestration would impact DHS operations in Texas, including an increase in average peak wait times of up to 3 hours at certain land and air ports of entry, curtailed Coast Guard air and maritime operations along the Gulf Coast by up to 23 percent, and a reduced bio-agent and explosive detection capacity.
“Border security and the detention of those who violate our laws are at the core of DHS’s mission. Yet last week, your department released an unknown number of detainees into communities across Texas and the United States,” he wrote. “To this day, your department has not responded to numerous Congressional and state government requests for detailed information regarding the total number of detainees released by your department, the legal violations for which these individuals were being detained, or a geographic breakdown of releases.
“Your department also released furlough notices on March 7, including notices to CBP personnel which explained the decision to furlough as required ‘to promote the efficiency of the [CBP] service by avoiding a deficit of funds in FY2013.’ These actions call into question the department’s commitment to its core missions and raise serious concerns about the judgment of DHS leadership,” he wrote.
Mr. Cornyn told Ms. Napolitano that her actions and rhetoric regarding the requirements of sequestration were inconsistent with guidance provided to her department, noting that a January notice from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) urged agencies to “use any available flexibility to reduce operational risks and minimize impacts on the agency’s core mission.”
He said the proposed furloughs of personnel and the release of criminal alien immigrants represented a violation of certain of the department’s basic core missions,” including prevent terrorism and enhance security, secure and manage our borders, and enforce and administer our immigration laws.”