By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. government watchdog agency said on Friday that the appointments of two top homeland security officials in the administration of President Donald Trump were improper.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the appointments of Chad Wolf, acting secretary of homeland security, and Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of homeland security, did not follow processes outlined in federal law. The GAO referred the issue to the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The GAO provides nonpartisan information to Congress and has little enforcement power.
Trump made a crackdown on immigration a major focus of his first four-year term in office and campaign for re-election. At the same time, he has cycled through leaders at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration enforcement.
In a 12-page decision, the GAO found that the department did not follow the proper chain of succession following the departure of Senate-confirmed Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in 2019, making the subsequent appointments of Wolf and Cuccinelli improper.
A federal judge in Washington ruled in March that Cuccinelli’s 2019 appointment to the top role at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which he held prior to moving to the Department of Homeland Security later that year, was unlawful and invalidated some of the official’s policy actions.
The agency and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
U.S. Representatives Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney, the Democratic chairs of the House of Representatives committees on Homeland Security and Oversight and Reform, respectively, called on Wolf to step down and return to his Senate-confirmed role in the department’s policy office and for Cuccinelli to resign in light of the watchdog findings.
Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis.