Mr. President— During my years of public service, I’ve learned that the most important ingredient in enabling organizations to work is leadership. That is the case both in government and the private sector, and in organizations large and small. Part of our shared responsibility here, then, is ensuring that we have effective leaders in place across our federal government.
And, it is every Senator’s constitutional role to provide advice and consent on the President’s nominations in a thorough and timely manner as part of the confirmation process.
Today we have the opportunity to fill a key leadership post in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—the role of Deputy Secretary.
This Department plays a critical role in protecting our nation from harm. Because of its essential mission, I have been very concerned for many months about the high number of senior level vacancies at DHS. In fact, the Department has been without a Senate confirmed Deputy Secretary since April—or eight full months—and without a Senate confirmed Secretary since early summer.
Earlier this week we took an important step to address this problem by voting to confirm Jeh Johnson as the next Secretary of DHS with overwhelming bipartisan support. Now we need to keep building that leadership team by confirming Alejandro “Ali” Mayorkas as his Deputy.
Everything I have learned about Director Mayorkas over the past year has led me to conclude that he is an exceptional candidate to be the next Deputy Secretary at DHS.
Some of our Republican friends say that we cannot move forward with consideration of Director Mayorkas’ nomination until the Office of the Inspector General finishes an investigation it began in September 2012 — 15 months ago — into his management of the complex EB-5 investor visa program. And yesterday we also heard Republicans put forward a new argument that the results of an OIG audit of the broader EB-5 program should somehow disqualify Director Mayorkas.
Respectfully, I disagree. We have waited long enough. First, I will explain why we can no longer continue to wait for the Office of Inspector General to finish its investigation. And then I will shed some light on why the OIG audit of the EB-5 program is flawed, and in no way disqualifies Director Mayorkas.
First things first: just three days before his confirmation hearing in July, we learned about the Office of the Inspector General investigation into Director Mayorkas in a highly irregular manner, through a leaked email to Congress. In fact, the Inspector General subsequently apologized to Senator Leahy, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, for this leak.
The information that was leaked indicated that in September 2012, the OIG had received allegations about conflicts of interest, misuse of position, and an appearance of impropriety by Director Mayorkas and other agency officials. Importantly, the OIG confirmed that this was not in any way a criminal investigation.
We now know that the OIG did not begin investigating these allegations for almost a year after receiving them.
Ideally I would have preferred that the investigation be completed before moving forward – and at one point I thought it might be. But based on my staff’s conversations with the Office of the Inspector General I believe that this investigation still has months to go.
Dr. Coburn has said that it is improper for me to inquire about the status of an investigation. That is simply absurd. There is absolutely nothing improper about the Chairman of a Committee seeking an update on the status of, and resources for, a pending investigation.
Accordingly, in July, Dr. Coburn and I wrote to the IG and urged him to make this investigation a priority. In August, the IG responded and said it would be a priority. The OIG also told my staff that the investigation would be completed in October. In October, Dr. Coburn and I again wrote to the IG asking for a status update. My staff was informed that it would now be completed in December.
On December 2nd, a bipartisan group of Committee staff participated in a telephone call with the head of investigations at the OIG to receive another status update. They were told it would likely take two or three more months to complete the investigation.
To recap, every time we have spoken with the Office of the Inspector General, we have been told they are just two or three months away from completing this investigation.
I respect that the OIG must do its job, but we must do ours as well, and we cannot afford to keep waiting two months, every other month, to fill a position as critical as this one.
During this most recent call with the Office of the Inspector General, with bipartisan Committee staff, the OIG once again confirmed that, to date, they have found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by anybody at DHS, including Director Mayorkas.
Given that the investigation appears to be months away from conclusion and that its completion date has already slipped several times -- and given the confirmation by the OIG that there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing -- it is time to move forward.
Now, some of my colleagues continue to say that the allegations they have heard from anonymous sources, or so-called whistleblowers, are very concerning. I wish I could tell you that we were able to investigate these allegations in full. But unfortunately, these anonymous sources have refused to provide any information to the Majority on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. This is, as I understand it, unprecedented.
According to Dr. Coburn, his staff has met with six individuals who have raised a number of allegations that he is concerned about. Unfortunately, rather than question the nominee about this matter and give him a chance to respond, Republican members of our Committee boycotted his confirmation hearing and have refused to meet with Director Mayorkas.
I’ve said this to Dr. Coburn before, but I simply do not understand how my Republican friends can refuse to offer Director Mayorkas what I consider to be a simple, common, courtesy: a face to face meeting.
Again, we have been denied the opportunity to meet with these anonymous sources. My staff has, however, thoroughly looked into the allegations that have made been made public in a number of letters by Senator Grassley. These allegations cluster around Director Mayorkas’ administration of the EB-5 visa program. It is an extremely complicated program that provides foreign investors an opportunity to immigrate to the United States in exchange for significant investments in job-creating enterprises here.
The primary complaint about Director Mayorkas centers around an EB-5 related application by the Gulf Coast Funds Management regional center which has ties to Virginia Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe.
Anonymous sources have reportedly alleged that Director Mayorkas improperly intervened to help change a draft legal decision so that it would come out in favor of Terry McAuliffe’s former company, Greentech Automotive.
First of all, I think it is important that everybody understands that Greentech did not get what they wanted. I say again, the final decision in this case DID NOT come out in Greentech’s favor.
Second, it is important to note that the author of the Greentech decision -- the former head of the Administrative Appeals Office at US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Mr. Perry Rhew told my staff just last week that he strongly disputed the allegation that Director Mayorkas had inappropriately influenced this decision.
That’s right. The one person that my staff was able to identify in Senator Grassley’s letters directly contradicted the comments attributed to him, and the main allegations raised against Director Mayorkas in those letters.
Some of the other allegations that have been made public about Director Mayorkas’ management of the EB-5 program contend that applications appear to have been processed without sufficient regard to security concerns.
However, in reviewing the leaked emails that were attached to these accusations, Director Mayorkas actually says the exact opposite. For example, in an email to subordinates on January 30 this year concerning an application for a Regional Center in Las Vegas, Director Mayorkas says: “we will take the time needed to resolve the security issue and we will not act until we have achieved resolution. I agree that we need to run enhanced security and integrity checks.”
Are these the actions of someone who is trying to exert improper influence or subvert security checks? I think any fair minded person would agree that the answer is NO!
Even our Committee’s Ranking Member, Dr. Coburn has said that the allegations against Mr. Mayorkas, although serious, are most likely not grounded in reality. In reference to the allegations against Mr. Mayorkas, Dr. Coburn said last week, “I doubt they are true, but we do not have the facts.”
I agree with Dr. Coburn. We don’t have any facts pointing to any sort of wrong doing by Director Mayorkas at all. Once again, none of the anonymous sources have presented information to the Majority regarding their concerns.
We do know the names of the dozens of people—people with impeccable credentials from both sides of the aisle—who think the world of Director Mayorkas.
One of them is Jane Holl Lute, the last Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. She said: “As I have come to know Ali, I can tell you that he asks no more of others than he does of himself, and, in leading by example, sets a standard of excellence for all who consider themselves committed to public service. In my view, Homeland Security could be in no better hands.”
We also heard from a number of officials in the George W. Bush Administration, including the last Senate-confirmed Inspector General, Richard Skinner, President Bush’s Homeland Security Advisor, Kenneth Wainstein, and the three most senior border security officials for President Bush—Robert Bonner, Ralph Basham, and Jason Ahern.
In fact, Ralph Basham, the last Senator-confirmed Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection—and the former head of the Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration—urged us to move forward with Director Mayorkas’ nomination despite the OIG’s investigation.
He said, and I quote: “There is no reason to wait. If this were an investigation of criminal wrongdoing by a competent investigative law enforcement agency, the Committee might be justified in delaying action. But the allegations, as I understand them, are at most as to whether an agency head used his discretionary authority to take a meeting and review a case and a program that was under his supervision.”
This is what one of the most distinguished national security voices in the George W. Bush Administration—a man who has led four different component agencies within DHS—thinks. I could not agree more. It is time to move forward.
Lastly, I’d like to discuss this new OIG audit of the EB-5 program that was released to Congress yesterday. I specifically want to address my Republican colleagues’ contention that this flawed audit somehow confirms that Director Mayorkas failed to take national security seriously.
The truth is that for years Director Mayorkas has been proactively addressing national security and fraud concerns in the EB-5 program.
18 months ago, in June of 2012, Director Mayorkas and his team approached the Chairman and Ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee with concerns about potential national security vulnerabilities in the EB-5 program. Director Mayorkas asked Congress, again 18 months ago, for the legal authority that he needed to fully address these vulnerabilities – authority only Congress could provide.
Do you know what Congress did? Nothing! Congress dealt Director Mayorkas and his agency a bad hand when we reauthorized the EB-5 program in September 2012. We failed to give the agency the legal authorities that Director Mayorkas and his team at USCIS specifically requested to enable them to address the national security and fraud vulnerabilities that it could not address on its own.
Earlier this year, I was glad to see that Senator Leahy added an amendment to the Immigration Reform bill that made virtually all of the national security fixes that Director Mayorkas had requested 18 months ago. While the bill passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support, it is unfortunately stalled in the House.
It strikes me as grossly unfair to punish Director Mayorkas for Congress’ inability to address the vulnerabilities in the EB-5 program that Director Mayorkas and his team brought to our attention and asked us to fix.
Keep this in mind when you hear my colleagues across the aisle say that Director Mayorkas failed to take national security concerns seriously. The people who failed to take these concerns seriously are those of us here in Congress.
I think this is a good time to set the record straight regarding some of the Office of the Inspector General’s findings in this recently completed EB-5 audit report—because this audit remarkably misses some key facts.
First of all, the report says the EB-5 program is vulnerable to fraud and national security risks, and that the legislation that created the program makes it difficult to fully address these risks. Incredibly, the OIG Audit report makes no mention of the efforts that Director Mayorkas undertook –beginning 18 months ago -- to get Congress to pass legislation to address these vulnerabilities.
In the absence of being granted those authorities by us – Congress – Director Mayorkas took it upon himself to implement whatever reforms he could with his agency’s current legal authorities. Again, many of these reforms took place before, or during, this audit—and yet, once again incredibly, they are not even mentioned in the report.
One of Director Mayorkas’ first actions was to elevate the Fraud Detection and National Security office to a Directorate, reporting directly to him. This ensured that national security professionals had a seat at the management table, and a voice in all major decisions.
He expanded reporting requirements and security checks for Regional Centers, which led USCIS to increase the number of national security investigations in the EB-5 program by more than 50 percent in the past four years.
He increased EB-5 staffing from nine people in 2009 to more than 80 today, and hired senior economists and national security officers to work with immigration specialists.
And, he proactively engaged other agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the FBI, and the Treasury Department to help police the program.
In fact, Senator Grassley noted this week that Director Mayorkas convened a National Security Staff working group to examine the program last year. That’s right, Director Mayorkas was the impetus for the very national security working group that Senator Coburn has cited as evidence that he is somehow ignoring national security concerns. Talk about no good deed going unpunished.
The audit report says that the program is fraught with the perception of outside influence. It’s true. USCIS receives 1,500 queries about the EB-5 program each year from Congress—1,500! In fact almost half of my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle have inquired about EB-5 cases since 2009.
But let me be clear. The fact that this program garners a lot of attention and that Members of Congress and other high level elected officials from both parties inquire frequently about the status and prospects of pending applications does not mean that USCIS adjudicators are swayed by the attention. Perception is not always reality.
Contrary to what some have suggested or assumed, the OIG reported in its audit that all of the files they reviewed in their audit – including the ones associated with Terry McAuliffe’s company – appeared to support the final decisions.
Let me say that again—the OIG audit concluded that the evidence it reviewed in the Terry McAuliffe case supported the final decision. The final decision that Mr. Perry Rhew told my staff that he made, without being influenced by Director Mayorkas.
Based on the evidence that we have before us, it is clear that Director Mayorkas has taken strong steps to improve the EB-5 program. These are the actions of a dedicated, thoughtful, and committed public servant.
They are the actions of a leader who is willing to make tough – but necessary – decisions in order to shake things up and improve a program. That is exactly the kind of leadership we need at DHS and across the federal government.
Let me close by once again pointing out that we have been unable to meet with the six individuals who have made these anonymous allegations. And it is frankly impossible for us to interview all 18,000 employees at USCIS. But just the other day, the Partnership for Public Service issued its rankings of the best places to work in the federal government in 2013, based on interviews it undertook with federal employees in 300 agencies.
I was dismayed to find out that the Department of Homeland Security ranked last in employee morale on their list of Cabinet Departments. However, one of the bright spots for DHS was U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In fact, it was one of the highest ranked components within DHS, coming in at 76 out of 300 federal agencies. And after Alejandro Mayorkas took over in 2009, employee satisfaction with senior leadership increased by more than 20 percent.
That says a lot about the kind of leadership that Alejandro Mayorkas has brought to USCIS and will bring to the Department of Homeland Security if he is confirmed. I would urge all of my colleagues to join me in voting yes today.