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Joseph V. Cuffari

DHS Inspector General

Joseph V. Cuffari is the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a role he was nominated for in 2019 by former President Donald Trump. Best-connected in the state of Arizona, Cuffari worked for former Governor Jan Brewer and current Governor Doug Ducey—both noted for their anti-immigrant and anti-abortion extremism—until his appointment to DHS. At the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG), Cuffari has a history of downplaying, delaying and squashing investigations concerning illegal department activity. Cuffari downplayed DHS’s lack of proper medical care that killed two immigrant children; delayed investigations into the Trump administration’s use of force against civilians; squashed investigations into the spread of COVID-19 among the U.S. Secret Service; and failed to publish reports on egregious DHS activity, including horrific forced sterilizations. Cuffari has continued and worsened the trend of a lack of oversight from the DHS OIG, causing his leadership to come into question by both his investigative staff and Congress. Equity Forward has therefore categorized him as red.

Joseph Cuffari Was Confirmed As The DHS Inspector General In 2019 During The Trump Administration

Cuffari Was Confirmed As DHS Inspector General In July 2019. “Trump announced his intent to nominate Cuffari in October 2018. The Senate confirmed him on a voice vote on July 25 [2019].” [Arizona Central, 8/6/19]

Cuffari Has Continued And Worsened A Concerning Trend Of Lacking Oversight Activity Coming From The DHS OIG

Under Cuffari, The DHS OIG Has Occasionally Confirmed Egregious Actions By Department Agents

DHS OIG Under Cuffari Found That The Trump Administration Forced Family Separation Illegally And Lied About It. “A government watchdog says the Trump administration, under its practice of separating families at the border, forced migrant parents to leave the U.S. without their children, contradicting claims by officials that parents were willingly leaving them behind. The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General said in a report released Monday that it found at least 348 cases in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement had no records showing migrants wanted to leave their children in the U.S. It also found ‘some’ cases in which agency officials deported parents even while knowing they wanted to take their children with them. That contradicted assertions by senior DHS officials that parents were choosing to leave their children in the U.S. to stay with family or for other reasons while they were deported in 2017 and 2018 as the administration sought to enforce a hard-line approach to immigration enforcement.” [Associated Press, 5/24/21]

DHS OIG Under Cuffari Found That DHS Agents Acted Improperly Toward Protesters in Portland, Ore. “At a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday, DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari said the report out this week found the agency ‘did not properly exercise its authority’ in Portland last summer. ‘DHS was unprepared to effectively execute cross-component activities in Portland,’ he said. ‘Specifically, not all officers had completed required training, had the necessary equipment, or used consistent uniforms, devices, and operational tactics.’” [Associated Press, 4/22/21]

However, These Efforts Have Been Few And Far Between For A Watchdog Agency—Cuffari Has Continued And Worsened A Concerning Trend Of Lacking Oversight Activity Coming From The DHS OIG

DHS OIG Has Been Incredibly Weakened Under Cuffari, Who Even Ducked Appearing Before Congress To Address These Concerns. “The Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog division has been so weakened under the Trump administration that it is failing to provide basic oversight of the government’s third-largest federal agency, according to whistleblowers and lawmakers from both parties. DHS’s Office of the Inspector General is on pace to publish fewer than 40 audits and reports this fiscal year, the smallest number since 2003 and one-quarter of the agency’s output in 2016, when it published 143, records show. … At a time when DHS has morphed into an instrument for some of President Trump’s most ambitious domestic policies, the inspector general’s role calls for the office to exert rigorous oversight of the department’s $70 billion budget and 240,000 employees … But the agency’s authority and productivity have withered, and in the weeks before the coronavirus outbreak, Inspector General Joseph Cuffari ducked requests to appear on Capitol Hill for routine testimony, a decision congressional staffers describe as unprecedented.” [The Washington Post, 3/17/20]

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) Found Several Foundational Problems With DHS OIG’s Work Under Cuffari’s Leadership. “GAO’s report found that DHS OIG did not follow professional standards when conducting its investigations and lacks a strategic plan and a number of formal structures for managing responsibilities. GAO said DHS employees expressed concern about inaccurate information or facts in about 23 percent of reports issued by the inspector general’s office in fiscal year 2020.” [The Hill, 4/21/21]

Cuffari Regularly Delayed Or Even Squashed Investigations, Especially Those That Reflected Poorly On Former President Trump And His Administration

Cuffari Delayed Inquiry Into A Politically-Sensitive Complaint Lodged By A Former Intelligence Chief Until After The 2020 Election. “The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general blocked an inquiry into whether senior agency officials demoted an employee who criticized the Trump administration, according to people familiar with the matter and a whistle-blower complaint obtained by The New York Times. The inspector general, Joseph V. Cuffari, ignored recommendations from his investigators and delayed the inquiry until after the 2020 election, according to officials familiar with the matter and a whistle-blower complaint filed in April. At issue was whether Brian Murphy, a former intelligence chief at the department, was demoted by its leadership last summer for warning his superiors and Mr. Cuffari’s office that the Trump administration had deliberately withheld reports about the rising threat of domestic extremism — a warning that proved prescient after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 — and Russia’s attempts to influence the election. Mr. Murphy filed his own complaint about his reassignment in September. But Mr. Cuffari and his aides delayed looking into his claims for weeks last fall and limited the time investigators had to conduct interviews, according to people familiar with the matter and the separate April complaint, filed by Brian Volsky, a former senior investigator in Mr. Cuffari’s office.” [The New York Times, 7/1/21]

Cuffari Squashed An Inquiry Into The Spread Of COVID-19 Among Secret Service Agents, Of Whom 10% Tested Positive For The Virus At One Point. “A second proposed inquiry would have examined Secret Service policies for handling the threat of COVID-19 to agents protecting high-level officials including the president. … Cuffari’s sidelining of his agency’s proposed review of Secret Service COVID-19 policies avoided any potential examination of his role and why so many agents, not to mention Trump, contracted the illness. At one point, more than 130 agents, or about 10% of the agency’s core security personnel, were ordered to isolate or quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, according to the Washington Post, which first reported the extent of the spread.” [Project On Government Oversight, 4/20/21]

Despite These Obvious Failures, Cuffari Still Attacked His Own Staff When They Called His Lack Of Leadership Into Question

Cuffari Attacked His Own Staff When They Criticized His Leadership To Congress. “Cuffari’s deputy and chief of staff, Kristen Fredericks, … provided a link to a December report commissioned by Cuffari’s office with a private law firm that investigated his subordinates for ‘undermining’ him. That $1.4 million examination of Cuffari’s employees included investigating them for their complaints about Cuffari to Congress and a council of inspectors general—communications that are constitutional and legally protected regardless of motive.” [Project On Government Oversight, 4/20/21]

Under Cuffari’s Purview, DHS OIG Never Published Their Investigation Of Reproductive Oppression At The Irwin County, Georgia ICE Facility

After A Whistleblower Exposed Forced Hysterectomies At An ICE Facility In Georgia, DHS Opened An Investigation. “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has opened an investigation into allegations of forced hysterectomies at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Georgia. DHS confirmed the probe in a statement to The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. The department’s decision followed pressure from Democratic lawmakers for an investigation after a whistleblower complaint filed by a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center earlier this week detailed ‘jarring medical neglect’ at the facility … Spokespeople for DHS and the DHS inspector general were not immediately available for comment when contacted by The Hill about the investigation.” [The Hill, 9/17/20]

The DHS OIG Investigation Has Yet To Be Made Public. [DHS Office of Inspector General, accessed 9/24/21]

Cuffari Downplayed DHS’s Role In The Preventable Death Of Two Children Detained By CBP, Calling Into Question The Very Purpose Of The Watchdog Agency

Cuffari Downplayed OIG’s Role In The Death Of Two Migrant Children Who Died Due To Lack Of Care In CBP Detention. “Jakelin died on Dec. 8, 2018 of septic shock, leading to multiple organ failure. Felipe died two weeks later, on Christmas Eve, from bacterial pneumonia coupled with a diagnosed, but untreated, flu infection. The Office of the Inspector General – the watchdog body for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which includes Border Patrol – found no evidence of misconduct or malfeasance from border agents in either case. Joseph Cuffari, the inspector general, said their investigations determined in both cases that border agents ‘exhibited great concern for the children’s welfare and obtained medical treatment without delay,’ he said. But the two medical experts that the committee tasked with conducting independent investigations of the cases testified that the medical procedures that agents followed were inadequate and spoke of ‘irregularities’ in the care the children received.” [Arizona Republic, 7/15/20]

Prior To His Role At DHS, Cuffari Worked For Anti-Immigrant And Anti-Abortion Elected Officials

Cuffari Is A Former Advisor To Right-Wing Arizona Governor Ducey And Former Governor Brewer. “Joseph Cuffari, a one-time adviser to Gov. Doug Ducey and former Gov. Jan Brewer, is President Donald Trump’s new inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security … ‘Joe has been a valuable member of our team for the last four years,’ Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said in an email. ‘We were sad to see him go but excited for his confirmation and glad he’ll be continuing his career of service at the Department of Homeland Security.’” [Arizona Central, 8/6/19]

  • Ducey Attempted To Create A Border Strike Force At The Arizona-Mexico Border And Has Repeatedly Used Stigmatizing Language When Referring to Im/migrants. “Gov. Doug Ducey has ordered the Arizona Department of Public Safety to create a border strike force comprised of state troopers who will help law enforcement agencies along the Mexican border respond to crimes … Ducey made border security a major issue in the 2014 GOP primary, promising to ‘fight back with every resource at my command’ to secure the state’s border with Mexico. ‘Fencing, satellites, guardsmen, more police and prosecutors,’ Ducey said in a campaign ad. ‘We'll get this done. If Barack Obama won’t do the job, Arizonans will.’” [Associated Press, 11/23/15]
  • Ducey Is Staunchly Anti-Abortion, And In 2021 Asked The Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade. “Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has joined 11 other Republican governors and more than 200 GOP lawmakers and officials from across the country in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the landmark, controversial Roe v. Wade abortion ruling. In a brief filed Thursday, the governors joined Mississippi’s argument that the 14th Amendment does not include the right to abortion and that the rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey upset the constitutional balance between states and the federal government.” [Arizona Central, 9/24/21]
  • In 2012, Jan Brewer Signed Into Law An Arizona Abortion Ban That Was The Most Extreme In The United States At That Point In Time. “Despite its name, critics derided the Women’s Health and Safety Act that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law today as cruel, dangerous, and hostile to women—likely to deter many Arizona women from seeking an abortion, and to distress those who nonetheless go through with one. [The Daily Beast, 4/12/12]


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