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GAO finds Chad Wolf ineligible to lead DHS

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf speaks with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security regarding the FY21 budget. (DHS photo by Tara A. Molle/Released)
August 14, 2020

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), has found acting Department of Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf is ineligible to serve in the acting position.

The GAO, a Congressional investigative service, has determined in a new report Friday that Wolf was ineligible to lead the DHS because the acting position was supposed to go to the Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in the event of a vacancy. Wolf took the acting position after DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and then-acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan resigned.

The GAO report says both Wolf and Deputy DHS secretary Ken Cuccinelli are ineligible to serve in the acting DHS secretary role and made it into their current positions through an invalid order of succession created by McAleenan, who the GAO said also did not have the proper authority to lead the DHS.

The GAO report states, “In the case of vacancy in the positions of Secretary, Deputy Secretary, and Under Secretary for Management, the HSA provides a means for an official to assume the title of Acting Secretary pursuant to a designation of further order of succession by the Secretary. Mr. McAleenan assumed the title of Acting Secretary upon the resignation of Secretary Nielsen, but the express terms of the existing designation required another official to assume that title. As such, Mr. McAleenan did not have the authority to amend the Secretary’s existing designation. Accordingly, Messrs. Wolf and Cuccinelli were named to their respective positions of Acting Secretary and Senior Official Performing the Duties of Deputy Secretary by reference to an invalid order of succession.”

In their analysis of the GAO findings, Axios reported the findings have no immediate legal power but that it could serve as a critical piece of evidence in litigation against DHS policies Wolf has enacted since taking acting control over DHS.

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A DHS spokesman told Axios that the agency plans to fight the GAO’s decision.

“We wholeheartedly disagree with the GAO’s baseless report and plan to issue a formal response to this shortly,” the DHS spokesperson said Friday.