Politics & Policy

The Disturbing Coburn Report

The departing senator’s final oversight report shows a DHS that’s wasteful, prone to corruption, and unable to keep us safe.

Only three in every 100 illegal immigrants will ever face deportation. That’s one of many shocking revelations found in the final oversight report of Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn. Coburn, who was the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has exposed some glaring problems at the Department of Homeland Security. Coburn’s report, released on Saturday, details DHS’s failure to fulfill any of its five core functions: securing the border, enforcing immigration law, preventing terrorism, safeguarding cyberspace, and strengthening national preparedness.  

While the federal government continues to increase spending on border security, more than 700 miles of the nation’s southern border and thousands of miles of its northern border remain unsecured, according to the report. “With these broad gaps in coverage of both our Southern and Northern borders, the problem of people and goods illegally entering our country remains a significant concern,” the report states. “DHS has not succeeded in its efforts to secure U.S. port facilities, infrastructure, and incoming cargo from potential terrorist attacks, despite spending upward of $5 billion on these initiatives since 2002.”  One of the reasons for its failures, as the report goes on to point out, is that the DHS lacked a department-wide border-security plan until late last year.

And the department’s efforts to administer and enforce immigration law have been even less successful. Coburn’s report finds that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has routinely neglected to remove immigrants who overstay their visas and pose threats to public safety and national security. Millions of illegal aliens reportedly continue to reside in the United States as a result.

The massive challenge of immigration enforcement is compounded at the DHS by what the report describes as the department’s “problem of potentially widespread corruption within its workforce along the Southern border.” As of December 2012, more than 140 current and former U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers had been arrested for corruption offenses, 125 of whom had been convicted, and as recently as 2011, DHS’s Office of Inspector General had 600 open cases examining CBP employees, according to the report. The department has failed to minimize potential corruption, in part, the report states, because the DHS inspector general has yet to reach an agreement to share information with the FBI, which could assist in shutting down departmental corruption. And when DHS employees do attempt to expose wrongdoing, they often face blowback. Departmental misconduct has been made worse by the “culture of retaliation that continues to permeate throughout DHS,” which Coburn detailed in a letter to DHS secretary Jeh Johnson in July 2014.

#page#DHS also appears to have wasted billions of dollars attempting to prevent terrorism and safeguard cyberspace. “The Department of Homeland Security spent $50 billion over the past eleven years on counterterrorism programs, including homeland security grants and other anti-terror initiatives, but the department cannot demonstrate if the nation is more secure as a result,” reads a statement from Coburn’s office about the report. “DHS spends more than $700 million annually to lead the federal government’s efforts on cybersecurity, but struggles to protect itself and cannot protect federal and civilian networks from the most serious cyber attacks.”

The report documents similar waste in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where DHS has reportedly spent $170 billion since 2002. According to Coburn’s report, FEMA’s flawed programs have caused inefficient federal spending, including disaster assistance provided for many events that would not have been declared disasters 20 years ago, and a flood-insurance program that encourages people to build in areas that are vulnerable to natural disasters.

Despite all the problems detailed in Coburn’s report, the former senator has faith in the Obama administration to right the ship. “I am confident that Secretary Jeh Johnson is leading the Department in the right direction,” Coburn said in a statement. “One of the biggest challenges that Secretary Johnson and DHS face is Congress and its dysfunctional approach to setting priorities for the Department.”

Coburn was the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; now that he has left, Senator Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) will fill the void and serve as the committee’s chairman. Johnson was elected in the tea-party wave of 2010 and rose to the chairmanship with remarkable speed. He may have a tough time getting reelected in 2016. “It’ll be a challenging year politically,” he predicted, in an interview with Mary Spicuzza at the Wisconsin State Journal. His first step as chairman, Johnson said, would be to “properly identify problems.” Coburn has already paved the way, and Johnson would be wise to study his conclusions carefully. He’ll need to hit the ground running if he hopes to enact desperately needed reforms at DHS.

— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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