Department of Homeland Security

Top Homeland Security Officials were Invalidly Appointed, GAO Rules

By Elliot Setzer
Friday, August 14, 2020, 10:57 AM

Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli are ineligible to serve in their current roles because their appointment violated federal law, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled today.

Congress's independent watchdog agency found that Wolf and Cuccinelli’s appointments were invalid under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which outlines the rules for temporarily filling positions that require Senate confirmation.

After the resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on April 10, 2019, Kevin McAleneenan assumed the title of Acting Secretary. But the GAO concluded McAleneenan was ineligible to succeed her, since he had not been designated in the order of succession. McAleneenan subsequently altered the order of succession so that Wolf and Cuccinelli could be named to their respective positions. Since he did not have the authority to amend this designation, the GAO ruled that Wolf and Cuccinelli were appointed based on an “invalid order of succession,” and ineligible to serve in their current roles.

The GAO’s general counsel Thomas Armstrong wrote: “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.”

He added that “We have not reviewed the legality of other actions taken by these officials; we are referring the matter to the Inspector General of DHS for review.”

You can read the decision here and below: