The top two officials at the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli were both ruled ineligible to be serving in their current positions on Friday by the Government Accountability Office. John Haltiwanger of Business Insider wrote that both the acting secretary and acting deputy secretary, respectively, were “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 executive agency jobs are required to be filled when they need to be appointed by the president. If these positions needs to be confirmed by the Senate, there are ways to fill them temporarily, but there is still strict guidelines in place for the order of succession and who can be appointed.
The law says Wolf and Cuccinelli were put in their positions through the use of an “invalid order of succession,” according to the GAO.
The watchdog agency said it is reporting its findings to the inspector general of DHS to review and take action. The report points back to when Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April of 2019. Kevin McAleenan, who took over her role, had not been designated in the correct way.
“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,” the GAO wrote.
The government watchdog said that President Donald Trump’s replacing Nielsen with McAleenan broke the Reform Act’s mandate, bypassing a senior Homeland Security official who was legally designated to assume the temporary duty station. Lawmakers in Congress reportedly questioned whether the move was legal at the time.
Haltiwanger wrote that it’s unclear what, if anything, Trump will do with the report, because it does not carry the force of law with it. For its part, DHS rejected the report outright. A spokesman said that Wolf would be issuing a formal response “shortly.”
Democrats in Congress called on both Wolf and Cuccinelli to resign immediately. Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said the revelations painted a “disturbing picture” of the Trump administration playing “fast and loose” with the appointments.
Thompson added that the president placed Wolf in his current position to deliver on the administration’s “radical agenda.”
In recent days and weeks, Wolf has clashed with Democratic lawmakers over operations in cities like Portland, Oregon. He has reportedly sent law enforcement officials to several cities to arrest protestors for what they’ve called “minor infractions.”