An independent government watchdog that reports to Congress has concluded that acting Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf and acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli was invalidly appointed and are ineligible to serve in their current roles under the Vacancies Reform Act.
The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 governs how vacant executive agency positions that require a presidential appointment with Senate confirmation can be temporarily filled. Per the law, Wolf and Cuccinelli are serving under an “invalid order of succession,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said on Friday. The GAO said it’s referring the matter to the inspector general of Homeland Security for review.
“Upon Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s resignation on April 10, 2019, the official who assumed the title of Acting Secretary had not been designated in the order of succession to serve upon the Secretary’s resignation,” the GAO said. “Because the incorrect official assumed the title of Acting Secretary at that time, subsequent amendments to the order of succession made by that official were invalid and officials who assumed their positions under such amendments, including Chad Wolf and Kenneth Cuccinelli, were named by reference to an invalid order of succession.”
In short, according to the GAO, Wolf and Cuccinelli have illegally been appointed to their present roles, which can be traced back to President Donald Trump tapping Kevin McAleenan as acting Homeland Security chief in 2019 after Kirstjen Nielsen resigned. By appointing McAleenan, the president bypassed a senior Homeland Security official who was legally designated to assume the temporary duty of leading the agency. The legality of the move was questioned by lawmakers at the time.
Trump has habitually placed people in acting roles, simultaneously bypassing the Senate confirmation process.
It’s unclear what actions Trump will take to the GAO’s conclusion, which is not legally binding. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS). fervently rejected the GAO’s report.
“We wholeheartedly disagree with the GAO’s baseless report and plan to issue a formal response to this shortly,” DHS spokesman Nathaniel Madden said in a statement first reported by the Washington Post.
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Department Of Homeland Security Flickr – Public Domain