Department of Misplaced Priorities

DHS hires staff, spends money on questionable projects even as it releases illegal immigrants and furloughs border agents

Napolitano (AP)
March 13, 2013

The Department of Homeland Security’s release of thousands of illegal immigrants from detention centers and plans to furlough tens of thousands of border agents comes as the agency continues to hire and spend money on what congressional critics say are questionable projects.

The Free Beacon found that DHS has embarked on a hiring spree even as it releases "low risk" detainees. More than 100 job openings were listed for DHS on the government’s job board site as of March 13.

A sample of the full-time jobs the DHS is looking to fill include three regional director positions, with a salary range of $118,846 to $155,500; two emergency management specialists for FEMA, who can earn up to $100,859; and several supervisor federal air marshals, whose salary ranges are $119,554 to $172,550. Several personnel security specialists are also being sought and employees can earn up to $97,333 a year.

The part-time jobs listed for the DHS include many Transportation Security Officers who can earn up to $43,697 per year working part time. The agency is also seeking to fill several child and youth assistant positions.

The salaries of all the future employees at DHS do not include other costs, as the Federal government also offers health insurance, a thrift savings plan, a retirement plan, life insurance, and long-term care insurance. Additional perks could include uniform allowance, tuition reimbursement, and transportation subsidies.

FEMA also continues to fund training exercises with a UFO-zombie theme. One such session is planned next month in Moscow, Idaho, according to a local newspaper account.

The DHS is also planning numerous conferences, many of which could cost more than $100,000. They include the 30th Annual Flood Conference from May 5-8 at the Hilton in Anaheim; the U.S. Coast Guard National Convention, Aug. 18-25; and the GFIRST National Conference Aug. 25-30.

The DHS may also realize cost savings in furniture purchases this fiscal year after a four-year binge purchase exceeding $180 million. The Free Beacon found the DHS has spent $184,624,540 on new furniture from 2008 to 2012. Those purchases include the hiring of a New York interior designer and upscale furniture retailer purchases.

Additionally, DHS continues to tout a new grant on its website authorized by President Barack Obama’s FY 2013 budget. It is looking to the public for suggestions on how to spend the new grant money.

DHS did not comment on why it continues hiring during the sequester, why it continues to fund questionable training exercises, or if it plans to cancel any of its conferences due to the sequester.

According to reports, more than 40 lawmakers have sent letters to DHS secretary Janet Napolitano demanding answers for the agency’s choice of budget cuts.

Sen. John Cornyn, (R., Texas) questioned Napolitano’s leadership in a letter: "Border security and the detention of those who violate our laws are at the core of DHS’s mission." Cornyn urged her to renew "efforts to eliminate wasteful and duplicative spending not aligned with core missions."

The senator has not yet received a response from Napolitano, he said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday evening.

"When the secretary of homeland security decides to pull thousands of border patrol agents from their posts instead of making already identified, common-sense, administrative cuts, there can only be one motive: Using fear to make a political point," Cornyn said.

"Her homework’s been done for her; it’s time for Sec. Napolitano to target real excess in her department and trim her budget without putting our national security at risk," Cornyn said.

Asked by the Free Beacon for a response to the many senators who have questioned their cuts, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) responded by email, saying they would "respond to the senators directly."

ICE spokesperson Gillian Christensen sent the following statement: "As fiscal uncertainty remained over the continuing resolution, and with the strong possibility of sequestration, ICE officials identified and released detained individuals who posed the least threat to public safety, were not subject to mandatory detention, and who were appropriate candidates for supervised release."

The statement added that ICE officials reviewed each case prior to release and does not "maintain records on whether an individual was released primarily for budgetary reasons."

The agency is now indicating that the release of illegal immigrants is not necessarily due to the sequester.

ICE stated it has funding from Congress to detain an average daily population of approximately 34,000 and over the "course of this fiscal year, ICE detention levels have exceeded 36,500. As of February 25, ICE’s annual average daily population for FY ‘13 was 33,925."

ICE must reduce its expenditures by $294 million across all of its programs, the statement said.

The Office of Management and Budget referred the Free Beacon to the DHS when asked what recommendations it made to the DHS regarding sequester cuts.