A watchdog agency that has called out many of the Biden administration’s failures at the border has faced an onslaught of frivolous and time-consuming investigations, the agency’s top lawyer alleges in a new federal lawsuit. 

James Read, chief counsel to Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, filed suit Monday against the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency, as well as its Integrity Committee, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Read sued in his personal capacity.

A similar lawsuit brought last year by Cuffari and his senior staff against the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency, or CIGIE, was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. 

Read’s new lawsuit is different in that it specifically alleges that the council of government watchdogs is itself secretive and violates federal law, namely the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which governs the required transparency of executive branch committees. 

Cuffari, appointed by then-President Donald Trump, reported corruption by employees of his office to CIGIE shortly after taking office. The earlier lawsuit that was dismissed alleged retaliation by the employees. 

The new lawsuit also challenges the constitutionality of the council of inspectors general and its integrity panel, arguing that  many of its members aren’t presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed. 

The federal complaint notes that CIGIE includes 34 presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed members and another 31 appointed by heads of executive agencies. The complaint notes that five members are inspectors general of quasi-federal agencies,which Read asserts aren’t part of the federal government. 

“[N]ot all of their members are employed by the federal government, and they do not follow FACA-mandated procedures designed to promote transparency and public participation in their activities,” Read’s complaint says, referring to the inspectors general council and the Federal Advisory Committee Act. 

The lawsuit says “CIGIE has allowed a private citizen to assume executive power” and provided personal information to its integrity panel “in violation of the Privacy Act,” the complaint adds. It argues that the court should declare the council and its committee to be in violation of the two U.S. laws and the Constitution. 

Those identified as “private citizens,” not federal employees, are the inspectors general of the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Denali Commission, the Legal Services Corporation, and the Smithsonian Institution. 

CIGIE’s Integrity Committee may recommend discipline up to and including firing. Some inspectors general may be fired only by the president upon notifying Congress; others may be fired by the board of directors of a particular agency. 

In May and June, the DHS Office of Inspector General issued findings showing that two of the department’s subagencies, Customs and Border Protection as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, don’t have an effective process for detaining and removing illegal immigrants at airports. 

Another report found that ICE lacked the capacity to consistently prevent the release of high-risk individuals from custody. One inspector general’s audit concluded that the Department of Homeland Security should improve screening and vetting of asylum-seekers at the border.

The council of inspectors general didn’t have an immediate response to the new litigation.

“CIGIE is aware of the complaint and has no comment at this time,” spokesperson Juan Lara told The Daily Signal.

The Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency already has come under scrutiny for alleged cronyism and retaliation. 

Last month, nine House Republicans led by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., inquired about alleged wrongdoing there and why CIGIE had declined so far to investigate the report from Cuffari about its staff. Biggs wrote:

In October and November 2019, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) referred allegations against three senior DHS OIG employees to the Integrity Committee. The allegations included incidents of fraud, misconduct, retaliation, and abuse of authority on the part of the three employees. Yet, in November 2019, the Integrity Committee informed DHS OIG that it would take no further action on the allegations, leaving the matter in the hands of DHS OIG.

The DHS inspector general’s office contracted with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, also known as WilmerHale, to conduct an independent investigation of the three office employees, which substantiated most of the allegations. CIGIE still declined to take action, however. 

Meanwhile, strife has broken out among other inspectors general. 

Gail Ennis resigned May 31 as inspector general of the Social Security Administration amid an inquiry by CIGIE’s Integrity Committee. Ennis was nominated by Trump in 2019 and confirmed by the Senate. Her departure occurred just weeks after Railroad Retirement Board Inspector General Martin Dickman was fired after being in the role for 30 years. 

Read’s lawsuit says the Integrity Committee notified him in June 2021 that he was being scrutinized and did so again in May 2022. After he responded in a total of nine hours of interviews, the investigations were closed. 

Read’s federal complaint doesn’t specify the allegations of wrongdoing against him. 

But National Public Radio reported that Brian Volsky, then director of the Whistleblower Protection Unit at the DHS Office of Inspector General, made a complaint to CIGIE in April 2021. Volsky alleged that Cuffari and other top officials, including Read, were guilty of “gross mismanagement” and slow-walked a probe of retaliation against a Department of Homeland Security whistleblower. 

Read’s lawsuit calls for the court to do this: “Set aside and declare unlawful any report, recommendations, best practice, proposal, or other matter that was formulated or approved by CIGIE or CIGIE’s Integrity Committee in violation of FACA.”

His complaint alleges that failure to follow the Federal Advisory Committee Act led to secrecy among other inspectors general, as well as a violation of his rights as an “interested person” in proceedings.

“An advisory committee subject to FACA is required to open its meetings to the public,” Read’s lawsuit says. It adds: “An advisory committee subject to FACA must open its records for public inspection and copying. CIGIE and CIGIE’s Integrity Committee do not open their records for public inspection and copying.”

Read’s lawsuit adds: 

Plaintiff believes that inspectors general are a cornerstone to good government and that the inspector general corp must operate in accordance with the foundational principles of objectivity, competence and nonpartisanship. Plaintiff is therefore an ‘interested person’ within the meaning of FACA, who has been deprived of his statutory right to attend meetings of, appear before, and file statements with CIGIE.