We’ve heard of “shoot the messenger.” There’s a new variant in the Government Accountability Office’s ongoing investigation of the Department of Homeland Security.
According to the Associated Press, the GAO feels that DHS lawyers are frustrating efforts to root out alleged waste, fraud and mismanagement:
“They’re not very responsive. They don’t give information quickly,” said David Walker, head of the GAO.
“Every document we seek to review has to be reviewed (first) by the general counsel’s office,” Walker added. He said the department’s general counsel wants to “sit in on every interview,” which he deemed inappropriate.
Walker said when there are more lawyers than other staff involved, “you’ve got problems.”
“I agree wholeheartedly,” said Inspector General Richard Skinner. “It’s not a denial of information, but it’s very cumbersome to obtain information.”
Skinner also said that having a supervisor or attorney present when his office interviews an employee “sets a chilling effect” and tells the employee he’s presumed not to be a team player.
Is the GAO really that naive?
Without knowing anything about the specifics of this investigation or the pace of DHS’s response, the notion that an in-house legal department should permit government interviews of employees without counsel present is mind-boggling. Or that there is something wrong with legal review of documents before they are produced.
Anyone who has dealt with regulatory document requests knows that they sometimes require a semi-trailer truck with Bates-stamped contents to be fully responsive.
I imagine DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff (himself a former prosecutor, Judge and Assistant Attorney General) doesn’t want to appear before Congress down the road and have new Majority counsel serve up documents he hasn’t seen and witness transcripts he hasn’t been briefed on. Having been on the other side of that table, Secretary Chertoff definitely knows who is having more fun.
One small note: until last month, the DHS GC was Phil Perry, son-in-law of Vice President Dick Cheney.
I’m sure he enjoyed riding shotgun on this investigation.