WASHINGTON — The Senate homeland security committee focused Wednesday on John Roth’s integrity at his hearing for his nomination Department of Homeland Security inspector general, a post that has been vacant for nearly three years and been the subject of nepotism and fraud investigations.
“They (the Department of Homeland Security) need strong, able, committed leadership, and they need that soon,” said committee chairman Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.
In December, President Barack Obama nominated Roth, the director of the office of criminal investigation for the Food and Drug Administration. Nearly three years have passed since Richard Skinner retired as inspector general. Charles Edwards, former acting inspector general, resigned in December and is under congressional investigation on allegations of nepotism and abuse of power.
After Skinner’s retirement, the President nominated Roslyn Mazer in July 2011, but members of the committee opposed the selection and Mazer’s nomination was withdrawn in June 2012.
Joe Newman, the director of communications for the Project on Government Oversight, said he believes three years is too long for an agency to lack an inspector general. He said typically acting inspector generals are disadvantaged because they lack job security, which raises questions about the decisions the acting inspector general makes.
“A permanent IG will do nothing but increase oversight in an agency that needs it,” Newman said. “Homeland Security has had its share of problems and we believe an IG is critical in terms of rooting out fraud and waste.
During the hearing, senators probed Roth about his ability to lead efforts to ensure cybersecurity, fight overtime fraud and protect whistleblowers. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, the senior Republicaon on the committee, asked Roth how he would handle the backlog of cases in the IG office.
“I’ve learned the job of the inspector general is a very hard one to get right but a very important one to get right,” Roth said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., stressed that Roth prioritize border security and return to the work he did as a member of the 9/11 commission.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asked Roth how he would improve the drive of the agency in the aftermath of Edwards’s resignation.
“It is an issue I will face early on,” Roth said. “My experience in agencies with morale and war problems is a lack of focus on mission. My goal is to have people press the reset button.
McCaskill warned Roth about the need to be bipartisan in his dealings with Congress, specifically warning against disclosing investigation report information to only one party.
“The minute you decide to play ball you lose immediate credibility because it’s not about facts, it’s about politics,” McCaskill said.
The committee has not yet scheduled a vote for the nomination.