- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

A former inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security says the fledgling agency ignored warnings of security lapses, and Congress didn’t address shortcomings identified by federal investigations.

“[T]he record indicates there could have been and should have been more vigorous oversight in the first two years, which are the most critical and formulative years,” said Clark Ervin, the department’s first inspector general, whose recess appointment expired in December and who was not renominated.

He said the agency treated as suspect investigations and audits by his office on spending, airport screening lapses, lost and stolen passports that allowed entry into the United States and consolidation of the terrorist watch lists.

“The reaction was either to ignore our findings altogether, or belittle it and say the problem was not as serious as we made it out to be, or to say the problem was already solved and the report was old news,” Mr. Ervin said.

A spokeswoman for the department did not respond to a call for comment. However, former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge described his opinion of the inspector general reports in an Associated Press story this week: “I did not always agree with the tactics, interpretations, conclusions or recommendations of the inspector general.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), which conducts investigations and audits specifically for Congress, issued more than 100 reports on problems in immigration enforcement, border protection, lax cargo security and needed improvements for issuing first-responder grants to fire and police departments.

Despite the GAO reports and thousands of inspector general findings, the House Homeland Security Committee held 15 oversight hearings in 2003 and 2004.

Rep. Christopher Cox, chairman of the committee, said the committee faced unique challenges because it was created as a “select” or temporary committee after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He said it was top-heavy with chairmen of other committees, making scheduling difficult and the hearing process cumbersome.

“We found the full committee to be unwieldily,” said the California Republican. “It was not a good venue to do oversight.”

With permanent committee status and new members, Mr. Cox says this session will focus almost exclusively on oversight, and field hearings are being scheduled across the country.

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee has conducted a dozen hearings on personnel, budget, border security, grants and front-line challenges within the department and another dozen nomination hearings and confirmations since the department opened.

Oversight authority for Homeland Security was given to the already existing Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which had numerous oversight responsibilities and last year focused on legislating intelligence reform and recommendations from the 9/11 commission.

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