DHS Secretary Mayorkas guts Homeland Security Advisory Council

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Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has fired dozens of members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council as part of the effort to “reconstitute” the panel, according to a letter obtained by CBS News.

The letter, first reported by Politico, tells members that he has “ended the term of current HSAC members effective March 26, 2021,” in order to facilitate “an orderly transition to a new model” for the panel.

“I am considering how the HSAC can bring the greatest value to the Department and how the expertise, judgment, and counsel of its members can be harnessed most effectively to advance the Department’s mission,” Mayorkas wrote. “I expect to work closely with the HSAC and to rely on its Members to help guide the Department through a period of change.”

He thanked the members of the council for their service, and said he would “reconstitute the HSAC in the next few weeks, once the new model has been developed.”

Some members, however, will remain. William Bratton, the former New York City police commissioner, and Karen Tandy, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, will keep their current positions as chair and vice chair of HSAC. Additionally, William Webster, former FBI and CIA director who Mayorkas says he was “privileged” to work in his letter, will continue in his position as chair emeritus.

More than 30 unpaid members previously sat on the council, made up of leaders appointed by both Democrat and Republican DHS secretaries of old who served in an advisory capacity. But now, the HSAC website has been updated accordingly and currently displays only three biographies on its page. 

Former members of the council included former acting DHS Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, former NSA director Keith Alexander, former D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier, former high-profile FBI agent Ali Soufan and former ICE acting director Tom Homan. 

Former HSAC members told CBS News that the advisory council been temporarily “dormant” since the election and waiting on further instructions from the secretary. Members were not given a “heads up” regarding the disbandment of the council, and it took several of them off-guard. The last project members were working on was an evaluation of Chinese influence on American universities.

“I thought it was the best board we’d ever had,” said James Carafano, a foreign policy expert for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “It had a lot of strong expertise across the department’s portfolios and competencies. So I’m disappointed.”

Carafano argued that “the biggest threat to Homeland Security today is politicization of the department and of the enterprise, in general.”

“It has always been a non-partisan board. All of the boards deliberations — everybody left their politics at the door. Every day, they just came in and worked on behalf of the department. That’s what I loved so much about it. It was this safe little garden where experts could just focus on the mission,” Carafano said.

A spokesperson for DHS said that Mayorkas will conduct a review of HSAC, and then a bipartisan “redesigned or reconstituted HSAC will be launched with diverse membership representative of America and the communities DHS serves.” The spokesperson added that Mayorkas made this decision in consultation with HSAC leadership.

“The Secretary intends to work with the HSAC intensely, engaging regularly with esteemed leaders who are recognized experts in the Department’s varied missions and who reflect the diversity of the country the Department serves,” the spokesperson said.

On Thursday, former Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf criticized the move by Mayorkas, tweeting, “While I respect the right for a DHS Secretary to alter the HSAC to address their needs, dismissing the entire council outright and stopping a lot of important work (that was underway) is not the right approach.”

Congressman John Katko, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, also criticized the decision, calling the HSAC “a critical body of expert, bipartisan thought-leaders, with the significant responsibility of providing strategic and actionable counsel to top DHS leaders on a range of homeland security issues.”

“While these members serve at the pleasure of the Secretary, today’s action sends the message that this Administration has no intention of upholding a bipartisan, unifying approach to securing our homeland,” Katko said in a statement. “It’s an absolute shame that Secretary Mayorkas has removed these well-respected homeland security leaders who have dedicated their careers to strengthening our homeland security posture.”

Mayorkas’ decision comes as the Biden administration has come under scrutiny for its handling of the influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border. While President Biden has said all migrant families should be rapidly expelled from U.S. soil under a Trump-era public health order, the policy is currently being enforced inconsistently across the southern border, frustrating both immigrant advocates and government officials.

There were approximately 18,000 unaccompanied migrant children in U.S. federal custody as of Friday morning, according to government figures. Nearly 5,500 were being held in Border Patrol facilities, some of which are overcrowded, and 12,500 were being housed in Health and Human Services shelters and influx sites.

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