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Lawmakers probe misconduct allegations against FEMA official

According to a letter submitted by members of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General received a sexual misconduct complaint against FEMA's then chief component human capital officer (CHCO) on May 1, 2017. By that time, FEMA employees had already filed eight complaints against the CHCO alleging non-sexual misconduct since 2001, along with 14 complaints that referenced him. Yet an investigation into the sexual misconduct complaint didn't begin until December 2017.

As we discussed last month, the now-former CHCO resigned in June after an investigation revealed "deeply disturbing" misconduct, mismanagement, lapses in professional responsibility and a "toxic workplace culture" at FEMA. According to a news release by the committee, the ex-CHCO is accused of having sexual relationships with subordinates, promising promotions in exchange for sex, and hiring unqualified personal friends for positions at the agency.

Committee members including Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) sent the letter to FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General in an effort to get to the bottom of how FEMA responded to the complaints about the CHCO -- and why the initial response took so long.

A July 2017 Government Accountability Office review found FEMA's procedures for handling misconduct complaints to be ineffective. Why? The procedures could not ensure that all cases the DHS OIG refers to FEMA are properly accounted for, much less actually reviewed and addressed appropriately. The complaint against FEMA's former CHCO was referred by DHS OIG.

The senators have asked FEMA and DHS OIG to provide details of the investigation by Sept. 10, including:

  • Copies of each complaint filed with FEMA's Office of Equal Rights regarding the CHCO, including the details of the complaints
  • Each of the DHS OIG's referrals to FEMA in the case
  • FEMA's administrative investigation manual
  • An update on planned IT purchases for a new FEMA case management system
  • Any complaints DHS OIG may have received while the former CHCO was working at the Secret Service
  • Any investigations in which the DHS OIG is participating
  • DHS OIG's referral policy for sexual misconduct claims, along with any potential review of that policy

Every federal agency is required by law to provide a workplace that is free from illegal discrimination and harassment. Doing so necessarily includes responding to misconduct allegations in a timely, effective way regardless of the positions of those involved. If you are experiencing discrimination or harassment at a federal agency, you have the right to have your concerns heard fairly and without delay. For assistance, contact an employment law attorney who focuses on the federal workforce.

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