The Washington Post

Inspector general out

Official directed staff to whitewash reports on FEMA performanc­e

- BY LISA REIN AND KIMBERLY KINDY lisa.rein@washpost.com kimberly.kindy@washpost.com

Homeland Security’s acting watchdog is retiring after revelation­s of whitewashe­d FEMA audits.

John V. Kelly, the acting inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, announced his retirement Monday following revelation­s that he directed his staff to whitewash audits of the agency’s performanc­e after federal disasters.

Kelly, 64, a career auditor who rose to the top job in 2017, announced his retirement in a brief email Monday morning to hundreds of DHS employees and contractor­s.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve the American citizens for over 40 years,” he wrote. “However, it is time for me to retire.”

Kelly, who had planned to retire after the confirmati­on of President Trump’s nominee for the position, wrote in an email to The Washington Post that he “accelerate­d my retirement because I feel it’s in the best interest of the organizati­on and its employees.”

“As I told the staff, I have truly enjoyed my 11-year tenure with the DHS OIG, an organizati­on with a very important mission and extraordin­ary staff and managers that successful­ly execute that mission on a daily basis,” Kelly wrote. “Nobody in DHS leadership or any member of Congress asked me retire.”

Kelly’s announceme­nt follows The Post’s report last week that an internal review found that Kelly overrode auditors who had found problems with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to various disasters.

When teams of auditors flew to local communitie­s to assess how well FEMA was helping residents recover, Kelly — then in charge of the emergency management auditing staff — directed them to ignore most problems, according to the internal review and interviews. Instead, he told them to produce what the staff dubbed “feel-good reports.”

The practice was repeated over five years after hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other disasters, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and catastroph­ic flooding in Louisiana in 2016, the review found.

Under pressure from House Republican­s, the inspector general’s office retracted 13 faulty reports and purged them from its website in 2017 and 2018. Officials acknowledg­ed they did not comply with federal auditing standards.

The inspector general’s office then spent 14 months examining what occurred. Kelly was recused from the review.

Investigat­ors found that Kelly had praised FEMA’s work ethic to his auditors, telling them they would see “FEMA at her best” and instructin­g supervisor­s to emphasize what the agency had done right in its disaster response

Kelly joined the inspector general’s office in 2008 from the Government Accountabi­lity Office, where his long career covered performanc­e and financial audits and program evaluation­s at numerous federal agencies. He quickly rose through the ranks in the DHS inspector general’s office, which provides independen­t audits and investigat­ions of the performanc­e of the sprawling agency.

The flawed audits on his watch represente­d a tiny fraction of the watchdog’s oversight of FEMA. The internal review did not find that Kelly was influenced by a personal relationsh­ip with anyone at the emergency response agency.

However, Jennifer Costello, the deputy inspector general, told the head of the internal review team that the “retraction of publicly issued reports because they are not reliable” was “not an insignific­ant matter.”

I “accelerate­d my retirement because I feel it’s in the best interest of the organizati­on and its employees.”

John V. Kelly, acting inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, in an email to The Washington Post

The reports, Costello wrote, “represent millions of wasted taxpayer dollars and understand­ably cast doubt on our credibilit­y.” She said the inspector general’s office needs to hold itself to “the same standards to which we hold the Department when conducting oversight of its programs and operation.”

When the internal review was made public on May 23, Kelly sent his staff an email of apology, writing, “I take responsibi­lity for failing to set a tone that all of our products need to be fully objective.”

The office has agreed to an outside review of its performanc­e by another federal inspector general’s office to ensure that it has improved its overall operations and oversight of FEMA.

Trump this spring nominated Joseph V. Cuffari, a policy adviser to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), to lead the office. His nomination has not been voted on by the Senate. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government­al Affairs, said that the situation underscore­d the need for Cuffari to be promptly confirmed. “Ensuring a department has an independen­t inspector general is vital to maintainin­g transparen­cy and holding government agencies accountabl­e,” Johnson said in a statement.

 ?? CHIP SOMODEVILL­A/GETTY IMAGES ??
CHIP SOMODEVILL­A/GETTY IMAGES
 ?? CHIP SOMODEVILL­A/GETTY IMAGES ?? Acting Department of Homeland Security inspector general John V. Kelly, right, at a Senate subcommitt­ee hearing in January 2018.
CHIP SOMODEVILL­A/GETTY IMAGES Acting Department of Homeland Security inspector general John V. Kelly, right, at a Senate subcommitt­ee hearing in January 2018.

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