Embattled DHS IG convinced Senate probe will clear his name

Tuesday - 7/23/2013, 5:04pm EDT

Charles Edwards, acting DHS IG, on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp

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Charles Edwards, the Homeland Security Department's deputy inspector general and acting IG, calls recent allegations of nepotism and improper travel "baseless" and says he's convinced a Senate subcommittee investigation will clear his name.

Speaking exclusively to the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp, Edwards said he has provided complete documentation to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight.

Last month, Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the subcommittee's chair and ranking member, wrote to Edwards, requesting that he respond to allegations of misconduct raised by agency whistleblowers by July 19.

"It's a handful of people, we think, that have complained because the majority of DHS OIG employees are happy with the way that the organization is being run," Edwards told Federal News Radio.

Edwards: No nepotism in IG office

According to the Senate letter, Edwards is accused of violating anti-nepotism laws by employing his wife as a supervisory auditor within the office he supervises.

But Edwards said his wife no longer works at DHS and her tenure at the IG's office actually predated his. Edwards' wife, Madhuri Edwards, first came to the DHS IG's office in April 2007 to work in the Office of Audits, and it wasn't until 10 months later that Charles Edwards started working in the IG's office, he said. Before he came on board, Charles Edwards added, the then-deputy IG OK'ed the move.

His wife never worked under his direct chain of command, he has maintained, and neither one acted as a supervisor to the other. By the time he was named acting IG in February 2011, his wife had already departed the agency for another job, he added.

Another allegation raised in the senators' letter concerned Charles Edwards' pursuit of a doctorate degree in information systems from Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

He is accused of traveling to south Florida to attend classes "under the guise of conducting 'site visits' to an OIG field office," the letter stated.

Charles Edwards said he's made five trips to Florida for official travel — three to Orlando and two to the Miami field office, he said, for which he has provided agendas and other documentation to the subcommittee.

According to those documents, Charles Edwards used a discount for Nova Southeastern students for his hotel room, fueling speculation that the purpose of the trip was not work-related.

He acknowledged using the $79 discounted rate — which was still valid, since he was working on his dissertation at that point but had completed all in-class coursework years before. But, he said, he only did so because it would save the government money. The government rate is $159.

Watchdog group has raised the alarm

Charles Edwards said he's concerned about the impact of the allegations on the work of the IG's office.

"I am certain that when they look at all of this, this will be nothing but a baseless allegation," he said. "But, more importantly, this is taking away from the important work we have to."

In fact, just Tuesday, the office confirmed it is in the preliminary stages of an investigation into U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas related to the EB-5 visa program.

Charles Edwards said he felt compelled to respond to the allegations when he did because of an interview aired Tuesday on the Federal Drive with Dan Epstein, the executive director of Cause of Action, an independent watchdog group that has been among his most vocal critics.

Epstein said his group has started to obtain documents showing impropriety on Charles Edwards' part through Freedom of Information Act requests, which have taken the DHS OIG months to respond to.

"So, it's very obvious, at this point, to the investigators at Cause of Action that Edwards has been using federal dollars to benefit himself — not public service," Epstein told Federal News Radio.

In response to the Epstein interview, Charles Edwards said: "I really wanted to take the high road and not comment at all, but it's been extremely hard, especially on my wife and family. So, I owe it to them [and] to my office to talk to you about the complete story."

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Senate investigating DHS IG for nepotism, retaliation