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Office of Inspector General - CBP Senior Leaders' Handling of Social Media Misconduct, 2021

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CBP Senior Leaders’
Handling of
Social Media Misconduct

Homeland
Security

May 12, 2021
OIG-21-34

OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528 / www.oig.dhs.gov



May 12, 2021
MEMORANDUM FOR:

Troy Miller
Senior Official Performing the Duties of the
Commissioner
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

FROM:

Joseph V. Cuffari, Ph.D.
Inspector General

SUBJECT:

CBP Senior Leaders’ Handling of Social Media
Misconduct

JOSEPH V
CUFFARI

Digitally signed by
JOSEPH V CUFFARI
Date: 2021.05.12
11:52:20 -04'00'

Attached for your information is our final report, CBP Senior Leaders’ Handling
of Social Media Misconduct. We incorporated the formal comments provided by
your office.
The report contains two recommendations aimed at improving policy
compliance and enhancing the component’s overall effectiveness. Your office
concurred with the two recommendations. Based on information provided in
your response to the draft report, we consider recommendations 1 and 2
resolved and closed.
Consistent with our responsibility under the Inspector General Act, we will
provide copies of our report to congressional committees with oversight and
appropriation responsibility over the Department of Homeland Security. We
will post the report on our website for public dissemination.
Please call me with any questions, or your staff may contact Thomas Kait,
Deputy Inspector General for Inspections and Evaluations, at 202-981-6000.
Attachment



DHS OIG HIGHLIGHTS

CBP Senior Leaders’ Handling of
Social Media Misconduct


May 12, 2021

What We Found

Why We Did
This Review

Our review of U.S. Customs and Border
Protection (CBP) data indicated that from
January 1, 2016, through June 30, 2019, 83
CBP employees violated CBP policies and
guidance by posting or commenting within
various social media platforms including I’m
10-15. However, we found no evidence that
senior CBP leaders were aware of more than a
few of the 83 employees’ cases. We determined
CBP and Border Patrol headquarters officials
took no action to prevent further misconduct,
except when directed to do so by DHS. In
contrast, Office of Field Operations (OFO)
headquarters officials issued guidance to
remind OFO employees of acceptable use of
social media.

Members of Congress asked
us to initiate this review in
response to July 2019 media
reports that Border Patrol
employees posted offensive
content on a private Facebook
group, I’m 10-15, and that
CBP and Border Patrol senior
leaders were members of the
group.

What We
Recommend
We made two
recommendations that the
Commissioner ensure uniform
application of policies related
to social media, and establish
social media training for new
recruits and annual refresher
training for all CBP
employees.
For Further Information:
Contact our Office of Public Affairs at
(202) 981-6000, or email us at

With regard to the posts media outlets
published in July 2019, we found no evidence
that senior CBP headquarters or field leaders
were aware of them until they were made
public by the media.
We also found some senior leaders questioned
the legality or the application of CBP policies,
which may undermine CBP’s ability to enforce
the policies.

CBP Response
CBP concurred with our recommendations.

DHS-OIG.OfficePublicAffairs@oig.dhs.gov

www.oig.dhs.gov

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OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
Department of Homeland Security


Table of Contents
Background .................................................................................................... 4
Results of Review ............................................................................................ 7
CBP Policies Prohibiting Social Media Misconduct and Providing
Investigative and Disciplinary Processes ................................................ 8
CBP Cases of Social Media Misconduct ............................................... 11
CBP Senior Leaders’ and Headquarters’ Officials Awareness of, and
Responses to, Social Media Misconduct .............................................. 12
CBP Senior Field Leaders’ and Officials’ Awareness of, and Responses
to, Social Media Misconduct ................................................................ 15
Senior CBP Leaders’ Awareness of Offensive Social Media Posts
Published in July 2019 News Reports .................................................. 17
Differences in CBP Senior Leaders’ Application of Social Media Policies..
........................................................................................................... 18
Recommendations......................................................................................... 19

Appendixes
Appendix
Appendix
Appendix
Appendix

A: Objective, Scope, and Methodology ................................. 21
B: CBP Comments to the Draft Report .................................. 23
C: Major Contributors to This Report.................................... 27
D: Report Distribution .......................................................... 28

Abbreviations
AC
AMO
CBP
C.F.R.
CRCL
EAC
EEO
ES
FAD
www.oig.dhs.gov

Assistant Commissioner
Air and Marine Operations
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Code of Federal Regulations
Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Executive Assistant Commissioner
Equal Employment Opportunity
Enterprise Services
Final Agency Decision
2

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GAO
HRBE
JIC
JICMS
LER
OFO
OPM
OPR

www.oig.dhs.gov

Government Accountability Office
Human Resources Business Engine
Joint Intake Center
Joint Integrity Case Management System
Office of Labor and Employee Relations
Office of Field Operations
Office of Personnel Management
Office of Professional Responsibility

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Background
On July 1, 2019, an online media story1 reported current and former U.S.
Border Patrol (Border Patrol) employees had displayed offensive posts on a
private, Border Patrol-centric Facebook group called I’m 10-15. The posts
included images of dead migrants, sexually explicit images, and threatening
language, some of which was directed at Members of Congress. Other media
outlets followed with their own stories; one reporting that some senior Border
Patrol leaders, including the Border Patrol Chief at the time, were members of
I’m 10-15, raising concerns that senior leaders might have been aware of the
offensive posts but took no action to address them.
We received requests from 10 U.S. Senators and the Chairman of the House
Committee on Homeland Security that we assess Customs and Border
Protection (CBP) employees’ use of the I’m 10-15 Facebook group. In response
to their requests, we initiated this review, in which we examined the extent to
which senior leaders in headquarters and in field offices were aware of cases of
social media misconduct and any actions they took to address those cases
between January 1, 2016, and June 30, 2019. We focused on the senior
Border Patrol leaders who were members of I’m 10-15 and were still employed
by CBP when we began our review, including two leaders at headquarters and
three sector chiefs. We also assessed actions by the former CBP
Commissioner, and then Acting Secretary2 (who was also a former CBP
Commissioner at the time of our review), although they were not members of
I’m 10-15. We evaluated the extent to which the Office of Field Operations
(OFO) and Air and Marine Operations (AMO) Executive Assistant
Commissioners (EAC) were aware of, and took action to address, social media
misconduct cases arising from their employees. Throughout this report we will
use the phrase “senior leaders” or “senior field leaders” to refer to these
individuals, and we will use the term “officials” to refer, generally, to all senior
leaders.


ProPublica, Inside the Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group Where Agents Joke about Migrant
Deaths and Post Sexist Memes, July 1, 2019.
2 On August 14, 2020, U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a decision that
concluded Kevin McAleenan had not been eligible to become Acting Secretary when Secretary
Nielsen retired. GAO referred related issues to our office for further review. GAO B-331650,
August 14, 2020. After reviewing GAO’s report, we declined to take up the matter and instead
left it to the courts to resolve this inter-branch disagreement.
https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ig_cuffari_letter_tothompson_maloney_r
e_gao_decision.pdf.
1

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CBP Mission and Organization
CBP’s mission is to safeguard America’s borders, thereby protecting the public
from dangerous people and materials while enabling legitimate travel and
trade. CBP is led by a Commissioner who oversees the work of 60,000
employees, many of whom work in one of three major operational divisions:
x

Border Patrol is responsible for enforcing immigration laws and detecting,
interdicting, and apprehending those who attempt to illegally enter, or
smuggle people or contraband across U.S. borders between official ports
of entry. The Border Patrol Chief leads a workforce of more than 20,000
agents assigned to 20 Border Patrol sector offices throughout the United
States and its territories.

x

OFO is CBP’s largest component with more than 28,000 employees
responsible for facilitating lawful travel and trade, and ensuring border
security at the ports of entry.

x

With approximately 1,800 employees, AMO operates a fleet of aircraft,
vessels, and advanced border security technology to secure U.S. borders
in the air, maritime, and land domains.

In addition, CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) investigates and
tracks investigations of employee misconduct, and the Office of Labor and
Employee Relations (LER) is responsible for tracking employee discipline.
Figure 1 is a high-level CBP organization chart.

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Figure 1. CBP Organization and Reporting Structure
Headquarters
Officials

CBP
Commissioner

Other }.;I anagmerit

ES

OPR
AC

.,,

EAC

Border Patrol
Chief

Fuiicti'ons' -"

OFO
EAC

•

Field Office
Officials



Source: CBP organizational charts

CBP Procedures for Misconduct Investigations and Discipline
To determine the extent to which senior leaders were aware of and addressed
social media misconduct, we identified relevant cases by reviewing CBP OPR’s
investigative records. CBP OPR investigates allegations of CBP employees’
criminal and serious, non-criminal misconduct.3 Employees and members of
the public may lodge allegations with OPR’s Joint Intake Center (JIC), which
receives and tracks complaints of criminal activity or misconduct in its
electronic system, the Joint Integrity Case Management System (JICMS).
LER, a division of CBP Enterprise Services (ES), oversees the employee
discipline process by utilizing the Employee Relations workflow tool within the
Human Resources Business Engine (HRBE). HRBE is an electronic system to
track employee discipline and related employee data.

DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) has a “right of first refusal” to investigate allegations of
wrongdoing by any DHS employee. When DHS OIG declines to investigate the cases, it refers
the cases to OPR. DHS Management Directive 0810.1, The Office of Inspector General.

3

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Although the scope of our review did not include the actions CBP took after the
offensive I’m 10-15 Facebook posts were released by media outlets in July
2019, we were still able to gather some information about CBP’s response.
Immediately after the July 2019 media reports, CBP OPR began identifying and
investigating those involved with the published posts and comments.
Additionally, senior U.S. Border Patrol leaders and some employees contacted
OPR to report themselves and others as members of I’m 10-15, and a few filed
complaints of other inappropriate posts within I’m 10-15. These investigations
covered a range of specific allegations, such as disclosing law enforcement
sensitive information and making discriminatory statements; all violations of
CBP’s Standards of Conduct (Standards).4 By December 31, 2019, OPR
completed all investigations that arose from the posts published in July 2019.
Our analysis of OPR data showed that OPR sustained allegations against 107
of 136 employees.
The CBP Commissioner established a special Discipline Review Board to
process the cases based on a request from the acting Department of Homeland
Security Secretary. The Board reviewed the investigative records and Table of
Penalties to propose appropriate discipline. CBP also appointed a single
deciding official to determine the discipline. The deciding official listened to
each employee’s defense and considered their record and other factors to
determine appropriate discipline. The deciding official separated 4 employees
from Federal service, suspended 36 employees, and issued other forms of
discipline, such as counseling or reprimands, to 25 others. Three employees
retired before final disposition of their case. In addition to investigating
individual cases of social media misconduct, the Border Patrol Chief issued
social media guidance on July 1, 2019, after learning about the published
posts, and the CBP Deputy Commissioner issued guidance on July 3, 2019.
CBP also required all employees to take social media training.

Results of Review
Longstanding CBP guidance prohibits any communication that is
discriminatory against those in a protected class, such as race, religion, and
sex. CBP has additional policies that prohibit other types of communication
such as leaking sensitive information, endorsing political candidates, or
harassing colleagues. When employees are investigated for crimes or serious
misconduct, such as workplace violence or abuse of position for personal gain,
headquarters officials are notified immediately. Most social media misconduct
cases do not rise to the level of serious misconduct. In contrast, field officials

4

CBP Directive 51735 013A, March 13, 2012.

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learn of social media cases if discipline is imposed because they have an active
role in their personnel’s disciplinary process.
Our review of data from CBP systems that track complaints, investigations,
and discipline indicated that from January 1, 2016, through June 30, 2019,
CBP handled the cases of 83 CBP employees who had posted or commented on
inappropriate content on social media. Fourteen of the 83 cases were related
to the I’m 10-15 group, but did not include the content published by media
outlets. We found no evidence that senior CBP leaders were aware of more
than a few of the 83 employees’ cases. When headquarters officials learned of
cases of social media misconduct, some independently took action to help
prevent future misconduct, while others did not. For example, headquarters
officials in Border Patrol did not provide social media guidance in response to
the few cases they knew about, except when required to do so by DHS. OFO
headquarters officials acted in response to one of two cases. And finally, senior
Border Patrol and OFO officials in field offices were aware of some cases in
their command, and some acted to prevent future misconduct by reminding
their employees not to post information on social media that would discredit
the component or that would disclose sensitive information.
Regarding the posts media outlets published in July 2019, we found no
evidence that senior CBP headquarters or field leaders, regardless of whether
they were members of I’m 10-15, were aware of the posts that violated CBP
policy until the article was published. JICMS did not contain records of
complaints or discipline connected to the social media posts published in July
2019. We were unable to conduct a forensic analysis of any I’m 10-15
Facebook usage because the group administrator terminated the group.
Interviews also indicated a few senior leaders do not believe CBP policies
related to social media are constitutional, or they questioned how the policies
should be applied, despite the fact that a CBP senior official stated the policies
are legally sound. This uncertainty may undermine CBP’s enforcement of
these policies.

CBP Policies Prohibiting Social Media Misconduct and
Providing Investigative and Disciplinary Processes
CBP has policies and guidance meant to help maintain a workforce that
demonstrates high standards of ethical and professional conduct. According to
CBP Standards:
All employees must maintain high standards of honesty,
integrity, impartiality, character, and professionalism to
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ensure the proper performance of government business and
the continued trust and confidence of the public.
Under the Standards, employees are accountable for their actions on and offduty, when there is a nexus between their misconduct and the component.
According to the Standards:
Employees will not make abusive, derisive, profane, or
harassing statements or gestures, or engage in any other
conduct evidencing hatred or invidious prejudice to or about
another person or group on account of race, color, religion,
national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, or disability.
Similarly, the Standards prohibit employees from engaging in a political activity
directed towards the success or failure of a political party or candidate while
on-duty, in a government office, or wearing an official uniform. They also
prohibit employees from disclosing sensitive CBP information to unauthorized
individuals at any time.
Prior to the July 1, 2019 media publication of the offensive I’m 10-15 posts,
CBP issued two sets of social media-specific guidance. In 2015, CBP released
guidance that incorporated the U.S. Office of Government Ethics’ legal
advisory, The Standards of Conduct as Applied to Personal Social Media Use.5
CBP’s guidance notes the increasing popularity of social media and reminds
employees that the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees in the Executive
Branch6 also apply to social media. Regarding limitations on allowable social
media content, the guidance also reminds employees not to disclose sensitive
information or violate the Hatch Act.7 The 2015 guidance did not specifically
mention the prohibition on discriminatory conduct. In 2018, CBP issued
additional social media guidance8 in compliance with direction from Civil
Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL).9 The guidance reminds employees that the

Standards of Conduct as Applied to Personal Social Media Use, LA-15-03, April 9, 2015.
6 Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, U.S. Office of
Government Ethics, January 1, 2017. 5 C.F.R. Part 2635, as amended at 81 FR 81641.
7 The Hatch Act limits certain political activities of Federal employees, as well as some state,
D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded
programs. The law’s purposes are to ensure that Federal programs are administered in a
nonpartisan fashion, to protect Federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and
to ensure that Federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political
affiliation.
8 Memorandum for all CBP Employees, Social Media Posts, 02/08/2018.
9 CRCL’s Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Division leads the Department’s efforts
to ensure that all employees and applicants receive equal employment opportunity. The
5The


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CBP Standards apply to employees’ use of social media when the posts have a
nexus to the workplace, and it warns that the component may discipline
employees who post inappropriate messages when there is that nexus.
CBP also has processes and procedures for reporting and investigating
complaints of misconduct, and disciplining employees. CBP Standards require
employees to immediately report allegations of criminal activity or serious
misconduct that could jeopardize CBP’s mission to OPR’s JIC, DHS Office of
Inspector General (OIG), or their management. Examples of serious
misconduct include workplace violence, drunk driving, and abuse of position
for personal gain. Allegations not rising to the level of serious misconduct
should be reported to supervisors. As a result, headquarters officials are not
informed of most social media misconduct cases. By contrast, officials in the
field often serve a role in the disciplinary system, and learn about misconduct
cases that require discipline.
JIC personnel enter misconduct allegations into JICMS and forward the case to
DHS OIG. DHS OIG may accept the case for investigation or return it to the
JIC for disposition.10 The JIC refers the case to one of three entities for
resolution, depending on the severity of the allegations:
1. OPR investigators, who handle the most serious allegations that
OIG declines to investigate.
2. Fact Finders, who are specially trained CBP employees working
with OPR as a collateral duty to investigate allegations of mid-level
significance.
3. Supervisors in the field, who handle low-level misconduct
allegations.
When an investigation substantiates allegations of misconduct, managers work
with CBP LER staff to propose appropriate discipline and record it in HRBE.
CBP’s Table of Offenses and Penalties11 serves as a guide to supervisors to
assess appropriate discipline for common types of misconduct. The Table of
Offenses and Penalties provides a list of prohibited misconduct and
corresponding range of penalties, whether committed on or off duty. Table 1
shows a few examples of offenses and the potential penalties.

Division directs Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints management and
adjudication, diversity management, and alternative dispute resolution, and processes
employment discrimination and harassment claims brought against DHS Headquarters units.
10 DHS OIG has a “right of first refusal” to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by any DHS
employee. DHS Management Directive 0810.1, The Office of Inspector General.
11 CBP Table of Offenses and Penalties, June 21, 2004.
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Table 1. Relevant Entries from CBP’s Table of Offenses and Penalties
Nature of Offense
Discipline for First
Discipline for
Offense
Subsequent Offenses
Use of critical, demeaning,
Written Reprimand
3-Day Suspension to
or degrading remarks,
to 3-Day Suspension Removal
comments, observations,
statements, or actions
based on another's race,
color, age, sexual
orientation, religion, sex,
national origin, or disability
Inappropriate and/or
unwelcome verbal or
physical behavior of a
sexual nature, including
teasing, jokes, gestures,
display of visual material,
or requests for sexual
favors

Written Reprimand
to 30-Day
Suspension

14-Day Suspension to
Removal

Criminal, infamous, or
notoriously disgraceful
conduct, or other conduct
prejudicial to the
government.12

14-Day Suspension
to Removal

Removal

Source: CBP Table of Offenses and Penalties

CBP Cases of Social Media Misconduct
Our review of data from multiple sources indicated that from January 1, 2016,
through June 30, 2019, CBP handled the cases of 83 CBP employees who had
posted or commented on inappropriate content on social media;13 14 of the
employees’ cases arose from their activity on I’m 10-15. The 69 other cases
were related to posts on other private Facebook groups and personal social
media platforms that were not related to the I’m 10-15 group. None of the

Includes misconduct that may be related to the mission of CBP. It also could include
misconduct that receives adverse news media attention or adverse political focus.
13The 83 cases include 7 cases related to employee social media misconduct that occurred
prior to January 1, 2016. While this misconduct occurred before the scope of the review,
senior leaders’ awareness of and response to these cases occurred after January 1, 2016.
These cases involved allegations of discriminatory posts, three of which were substantiated by
the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Border Patrol Proposing Officials. 
12

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complaints in JICMS during this time span, including the 14 I’m 10-15 cases,
were about the particular posts media outlets published in July 2019.
Of the 83 cases, Border Patrol employees were responsible for the majority, 51.
OFO employees were responsible for 30, and AMO employees for 2. Thirteen of
the 83 cases involved discriminatory posts, and 11 of those cases were Border
Patrol employees’ posts. The other types of inappropriate posts included
unprofessional conduct, unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information, and
inappropriate political commentary. Discipline for the 83 inappropriate posts
ranged from counseling to 30-day suspension and a removal from supervisory
status, and some did not receive any discipline.
It is possible there were more cases of social media misconduct that we have
not identified because they were not entered into JICMS. According to CBP
policy, minor misconduct should be addressed at the local level and need not
be entered into JICMS.

CBP Senior Leaders’ and Headquarters Officials’ Awareness of,
and Responses to, Social Media Misconduct
Headquarters officials, including the senior leaders, are generally not informed
of most instances of social media misconduct by employees. The JIC receives
thousands of complaints of employee misconduct and criminal activity every
year, and CBP, Border Patrol, OFO, and AMO officals in headquarters are only
notified of the most egregious cases, such as drunk driving, domestic violence,
and violent crimes. As a result, the senior leaders were only informed of one or
two social media misconduct cases during the scope of our review.
Headquarters officials in Border Patrol did not respond to the few cases of
social media misconduct by providing additional guidance to their agents in the
field. By contrast, headquarters officials in OFO learned of two instances of
social media misconduct, and in response to one of them, the OFO senior
leader issued guidance to all OFO employees.
CBP and Border Patrol Headquarters
Senior headquarters leaders said they are only notified of serious misconduct
cases, such as drunk driving, domestic violence, and violent crimes. However,
some CBP and Border Patrol headquarters senior leaders knew of a few
instances of social media misconduct. They were alerted to I’m 10-15 as early
as August 2016 by a Border Patrol Assistant Chief who received an email
alerting him to the creation of the Facebook group. The email contained
screenshots of posts and stated they were “obvious policy violations” of CBP
Standards. A manager in the field imposed discipline on the employee who
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established the group. Soon after that, in August 2016, the then Border Patrol
Chief (who was Commissioner at the time of our fieldwork) and three other
senior leaders,14 received notification of an offensive post on the I’m 10-15
Facebook group. The post featured a photograph depicting a Border Patrol
agent engaging in a simulated sexual act with a mannequin. These officials
ensured the information was uploaded to JICMS. As a result, the employee’s
chain of command imposed discipline.
In August 2017, the Commissioner; Deputy Director for Diversity and Equal
Employment Opportunity; Associate Chief Counsel for Ethics, Labor, and
Employment; OPR Assistant Commissioner (AC); and the Border Patrol Chief
received a Final Agency Decision (FAD)15 that seven Border Patrol employees
created a hostile work environment through social media.16 These seven
employees’ racist posts were on a private, CBP-centric Facebook group, Laredo
Choir Practice, and on personal social media accounts. The FAD also found
that two supervisors’ responses to the allegations were “ineffective and
inappropriate” and that it appeared “management took very little initiative to
address the racial harassment.”
The FAD recommended CBP consider taking disciplinary action against seven
Border Patrol agents who posted the racist comments and the two supervisors
who failed to take appropriate action after being alerted to the comments.
Officials in the field served as the proposing officials, and the deciding official
was a senior Border Patrol headquarters official, the Acting Chief of Law
Enforcement Operations. The deciding official, who was stationed in
headquarters, imposed discipline in four cases.
CBP headquarters officials were more widely aware of the results in this case
than in other cases of social media misconduct, and their reactions differed.
Two of the officials said that a Laredo Office official incorrectly believed the
agents’ offensive posts were covered by their right to freedom of speech. One
official described a pervasive culture in CBP, and in law enforcement generally,
where “boys will be boys.” He added that management has tried to change that
perception, but more needs to be done, especially in remote locations.

three were: 1) the CBP Chief of the Law Enforcement Operations Division; 2) the then
Deputy Assistant Commissioner of OPR (who was the Border Patrol Chief at the time of our
fieldwork); and 3) a senior advisor to the OPR Assistant Commissioner.
15 An EEO complainant may request the component to issue a Final Decision, also known as a
Final Agency Decision, rather than pursue a hearing and decision before an Administrative
Judge. 29 C.F.R. § 1614.108. The FAD includes the merits of each issue in the complaint and
appropriate remedies if discrimination is found. 29 C.F.R. § 1614.110.
16 This EEO complaint was filed in 2015. We include it because senior headquarters officials
learned of it in 2017.
14The

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CBP complied with the FAD’s other instructions to issue social media guidance,
train employees in the Laredo sector, and pay compensatory and punitive
damages. In 2018, OPR issued social media guidance, which acknowledged
that CBP employees had posted inappropriate content on a private, CBPcentric Facebook group, and it reminded CBP employees that CBP policies
prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis of a protected class. In
addition, the FAD required 16 hours of training for nearly 1,800 Border Patrol
employees in the Laredo Sector. The CBP Commissioner at the time
unsuccessfully tried to persuade CRCL to decrease the training requirement to
only those employees who had been implicated in the case. All Border Patrol
agents in the Laredo sector received 16 hours of training, which consisted of 8
hours of online training and 8 hours of classroom training led by members of
CBP’s Privacy and Diversity Office. Training topics included “Rules of Behavior
and Limited Personal Use of Government Office Equipment,” “Personal Use of
Social Media,” “Standards of Conduct and Table of Offenses and Penalties,”
“EEO Awareness,” and “Workplace Harassment Prevention.” According to
headquarters officials familiar with the training, the trainers were discouraged
because Laredo sector agents did not take the training seriously. One
headquarters official received reports that agents considered the training
“window dressing,” and treated it as a joke, because they believed the sector
would not make changes to incorporate the policies being taught. Another
confirmed that agents receiving the training were disruptive.
Senior Border Patrol headquarters leaders said they had not identified a trend
in social media misconduct cases. The JIC receives thousands of complaints of
employee criminal activity and misconduct every year. During the period of
our review, almost 18,000 cases were filed with the JIC, of which there were 83
substantiated cases of social media misconduct. Yet, in comparison with
OFO’s response to reports of social media misconduct, discussed below, Border
Patrol officials could have done more, especially after the FAD indicated that
two supervisors did not address a hostile work environment established by
seven agents.
Office of Field Operations
The OFO EAC was made aware of three instances of social media misconduct.
In March 2018, the OFO EAC learned that an OFO employee had posted on a
personal Instagram account a Valentine’s Day greeting from Adolf Hitler and
anti-immigrant content. In response, CBP issued the employee a “cease and
desist” order, and the OFO EAC developed and distributed social media
guidance to all OFO employees. Later in 2018, the OFO EAC was informed of
another case in which an OFO officer posted anti-immigrant content on
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Twitter, including a cartoon depicting children locked in kennels. The CBP
Fact Finder program investigated the misconduct and OFO managers handled
the case. The officer was placed in an administrative position and his weapon
was removed. The EAC did not take additional action in response to this
misconduct. We found no evidence that the OFO EAC was made aware of the
other 28 OFO employees’ social media misconduct cases.
Air and Marine Operations
Our review found that two AMO employees were accused of social media
misconduct, one for disclosing official information on social media, and the
other for making derogatory remarks about the President. OPR referred the
cases to AMO local management for disposition, and the employee who
disclosed information received discipline; the other did not. The AMO EAC told
us he was not notified about either of these two social media cases.

CBP Senior Field Leaders’ and Officials’ Awareness of, and
Responses to, Social Media Misconduct
Employee misconduct cases are generally not reported to headquarters
officials, but officials in the field are informed of problems in their command.
Officials in the field, including the senior field leaders, are more likely to learn
about and address social media misconduct because they serve as proposing or
deciding officials for imposing discipline.17 However, they may not know about
all cases of social media misconduct in their ranks because supervisors may
respond to those allegations themselves without seeking to impose discipline
and without informing field officials about it.
Border Patrol
During our interviews, Border Patrol senior field leaders and a field official said
they learned about cases of misconduct when serving as proposing or deciding
officials, but few remembered the specifics about the cases. A senior field
leader said he recalled a few cases in which his agents posted law enforcement
information without authority to do so, and he began to view social media as a
potential threat. In response he issued a video to be posted on closed circuit
video screens throughout the sector that warned agents against posting

After an investigation substantiates an allegation, a proposing official reviews the record
provided by the component and decides whether to charge the employee with misconduct and
the appropriate penalty. The deciding official reviews the record, including any oral/written
reply from the employee, and decides whether to sustain the charge(s) and if so, whether to
mitigate the proposed penalty.

17

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sensitive information online. He also required the video to be broadcast during
musters and posted it on the sector’s internal website. A field official in
another sector remembered posting slides on the sector’s video screens about
social media misconduct, as well as providing muster presentations and
issuing a memo on the subject. Another senior field leader remembered a case
of an agent who posted a picture of himself in uniform playing with his children
when he was on a lunch break. The senior field leader served as the deciding
official imposed discipline but did not recall taking other action. Another
senior field leader said he did not recall instances of social media misconduct.
We asked the senior Border Patrol field leaders and the field official if they were
aware of the social media misconduct case in which a Border Patrol agent
posted a photograph of himself in a sexually provocative pose with a
mannequin. One senior field leader said he heard about the case and
remembered that the Border Patrol Chief at the time told field officials to “be
careful of social media posts.” The three others said they were not aware of
that incident.
We also asked Border Patrol field leaders who served in Laredo about the FAD
that found the Border Patrol Laredo sector agents’ racist social media posts
created a hostile work environment. The Acting Chief of the Laredo Sector
during the time the FAD was issued told us he was aware of the case. He said
he was frustrated that all of the nearly 1,800 Laredo sector employees had to
receive 16 hours of training, which he believed was punishment for all, due to
the actions of a few. Additionally, a former Division Chief18 in the Laredo
Sector said he was not aware of the case and expressed surprise that he was
not informed of it. Findings of a hostile work environment, he said, “are rare.”
As just described, senior Border Patrol leaders in Laredo were not responsible
for the discipline that was imposed in response to the FAD. Instead, three
senior Border Patrol field officials outside the Laredo sector served as the
proposing officials and a senior headquarters official was the deciding official.
Also, as we discussed previously, headquarters officials told us the trainers
were discouraged that the Laredo agents did not take the training seriously.
Senior officials in the Laredo sector would have been responsible for setting a
serious tone.
One other senior Border Patrol field official we interviewed mentioned that
leadership had conversations about social media misconduct and that he
talked with his agents about the 2015 and later the 2018 social media

18

Border Patrol Division Chiefs are two levels below Sector Chief.

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guidance. Moreover, he said, agents know the difference between right and
wrong.
Office of Field Operations
OFO port directors were also informed of social media cases in their
jurisdictions when they would serve as proposing or deciding officials, and took
action related to social media cases. Port directors distributed social media
guidance that OPR’s EAC issued in February 2018 and more guidance that the
OFO EAC issued in March 2018. In addition, in April 2016, one OFO Port
Director alerted CBP OPR to a social media misconduct incident in which a
photograph of two CBP officers engaged in hand-to-hand training had been
posted and sexually suggestive comments ridiculing them followed. The Port
Director sent a complaint to OPR to be uploaded to the JIC. In his complaint,
he also expressed concern that social media in general posed a threat to CBP.
CBP OPR referred the case to staff in the field for investigation, but neither
headquarters nor field staff examined or notified others of the concern that
social media posed a threat to CBP.

Senior CBP Leaders’ Awareness of Offensive Social Media Posts
Published in July 2019 News Reports
We found no evidence that senior leaders, even those who were members of I’m
10-15, knew of the offensive posts that media outlets published in July 2019.
Senior leaders told us that the first time they saw the offensive posts was in the
articles themselves. Senior leaders who were I’m 10-15 members said that they
only read posts that appeared on their personal Facebook page, and that the
offensive posts were not included in their news feeds.19 We reviewed those
leaders’ DHS emails and did not find any information indicating they were
aware of the offensive posts.
We also could not conclusively determine senior leaders’ interaction on I’m 1015 because the site’s administrators terminated the group after the offensive
posts were published. Facebook’s privacy policies also would have prevented
us from obtaining the senior leaders’ posts, comments, and usage history.


Facebook provides a newsfeed service that uses an algorithm to populate each user’s
account with Facebook posts by others that may be of interest. The algorithm uses three main
factors to determine relevant posts for each user’s news feed: 1) authors; 2) subject matter; and
3) popularity, especially with others the user interacts with most. See:
Facebook.com/facebookmedia/solutions/news-feed.

19

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The Border Patrol Chief did, however, allow CBP OPR investigators to access
her private Facebook account during their internal investigation. They did not
find any evidence that she posted or commented on objectionable posts in the
I’m 10-15 group. The investigators found she joined Facebook in June 2016,
and since that time, conducted 28 searches related to I’m 10-15 or other
Border Patrol-centric, private Facebook groups.20 When OPR interviewed her,
she said she searched those groups to survey workforce morale, but did not see
any objectionable posts. OPR also interviewed other senior leaders who were
members of I’m 10-15, and ultimately did not find evidence indicating
misconduct.
Four of the five senior Border Patrol leaders we interviewed who were members
of I’m 10-15 said that others had added them to the group, and they did not
know how that happened. Three said that initially the I’m 10-15 group was
useful because they could learn about employees’ concerns and opinions. Yet
the three also said they only looked at posts that appeared on their personal
Facebook feed, and so did not see a majority of the posts. Some also indicated
that within a few years, the I’m 10-15 group was used primarily for
complaining, and it lost its utility. During our interviews, three of the five
senior Border Patrol leaders said they left the I’m 10-15 group before July 1,
2019. Another left when the July 1 media story came out, and one remained a
member until the site was terminated by the administrator.

Differences in CBP Senior Leaders’ Application of Social Media
Policies
CBP, Border Patrol, and OFO for years have maintained policies, and more
recently guidance, that define prohibited discriminatory communication and
inappropriate use of social media. However, during the course of our review,
we gathered information indicating that some senior leaders in Border Patrol
may have undermined these policies by questioning their constitutionality or
application.
During our interview, a senior Border Patrol leader said that he and others
believe current CBP policies on communications and social media conduct
violate employees’ right to free speech, as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Yet, a CBP senior official said that the current policy was constitutionally
sound. A senior Border Patrol leader also disputed whether some of the posts
that media outlets published in July 2019 were inappropriate. That leader said

The Border Patrol Chief said she was a member of the following private, CBP-centric
Facebook groups: I’m 10-15, 10-15X2, Legacy 484 Patrol, Old Patrol, and I’m 10-08.

20

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it was not incorrect for an employee to repost a photograph of a deceased alien
and his child floating in the Rio Grande, nor were comments posted by other
employees about that photo improper. However, CBP’s special Discipline
Review Board recommended the person who reposted the photo be disciplined.
These differing opinions and uncertainty about the legality of CBP policies
could undermine CBP’s efforts to enforce the policies. If senior leaders
communicate their personal opinions to employees, efforts to curb social media
misconduct could be hindered.

Recommendations
We recommend the CBP Commissioner:
Recommendation 1:
Ensure uniform application of polices relating to social media misconduct.
Recommendation 2:
Establish social media awareness training for new recruits at Border Patrol
Academy and Field Operations Academy, and annual refresher training for all
employees.
CBP Management Comments and OIG Analysis
We have included a copy of CBP’s Management Response in its entirety in
Appendix B. We also received technical comments from CBP and incorporated
them into the report where appropriate. CBP concurred with both
recommendations. We consider both recommendations resolved and closed. A
summary of CBP’s response and our analysis follows.
In its response to our report, CBP expressed concerns that the report indicates
CBP took no action to prevent further social media misconduct, and CBP lists
responsive measures its senior leaders and officials implemented after the July
2019 publication of the I’m 10-15 posts. The response also mentions CBP’s
Standards of Conduct, which preceded the July 2019 publications and
generally prohibit harassment of others on the basis of protected class, such as
race and national origin.
The focus of our report is on senior CBP leadership’s awareness of and
responses to social media misconduct for the three and a half year period
preceding July 2019. It highlights CBP’s Standards of Conduct and identifies
cases during that period in which CBP employees’ social media posts violated
those Standards. The report notes that although OFO officials took action in
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response to social media misconduct during that period, CBP and Border
Patrol headquarters officials did not, except when required to do so. Although
out of the scope of our review, the report also mentions CBP’s response to the
July 2019 publication of I’m 10-15 posts and lists the actions CBP highlighted
in its response to our report.
We recommended the Acting Commissioner of CBP:
Recommendation 1: Ensure uniform application of policies relating to social
media misconduct.
CBP Response: CBP concurred with the recommendation and on December
23, 2020, provided us with examples of the steps it has taken to ensure
uniform application of social media policies. For example, CBP revised its
Standards of Conduct and its Table of Offenses and Penalties on December 9,
2020, to specifically include misconduct related to social media misuse. In
addition, in July 2019, CBP established annual training on social media
misuse for all employees. Finally, CBP modified its internal discipline review
process to provide management the ability to elevate serious allegations of
social media misuse for Discipline Review Board consideration. CBP asked
OIG to consider this recommendation resolved and closed as implemented.
OIG Analysis: We consider these actions responsive to our recommendation,
which is resolved and closed.
Recommendation 2: Establish social media awareness training for new
recruits at Border Patrol Academy and Field Operations Academy, and annual
refresher training for all employees.
CBP Response: CBP concurred with the recommendation, and on December
23, 2020, provided details of a training program it established entitled,
“Personal Use of Social Media for CBP Employees.” The training instructs on
proper and improper use of social media, and all CBP employees are required
to take the training annually. Furthermore, CBP new recruits must complete
the training as part of pre- or post-academy requirements. CBP asked OIG to
consider this recommendation resolved and closed, as implemented.
OIG Analysis: We consider these actions responsive to our recommendation,
which is resolved and closed.

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Appendix A
Objective, Scope, and Methodology
The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General was
established by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (Public Law 107ï296) by
amendment to the Inspector General Act of 1978.
We initiated this review in response to three congressional requests, signed by
nine U.S. Senators and the Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland
Security, sent to our office in July 2019. The requests came after ProPublica, a
nonprofit website, reported that racist, misogynistic, and otherwise offensive
content was posted on a private Facebook group for current and former CBP
employees.
Our objective was to determine whether complaints were made to CBP
leadership regarding the I’m 10-15 or similar private Facebook group(s) prior to
recent media reporting; which senior-level officials knew about the I’m 10-15 or
similar private Facebook group(s) prior to the July 2019 media reporting, when
they became aware, and what they knew about the content; and what actions,
if any, were taken to evaluate and address potential employee misconduct in
the group. We did not report on specific senior leader disciplinary decisions, or
responses to those penalties by other senior officials, where those decisions or
responses might appear to second-guess the deciding official.
The scope of our review covers January 1, 2016, through June 30, 2019, and
we requested relevant information for that period. We searched the JICMS
database for social media misconduct complaints and obtained corresponding
disciplinary data from HRBE. We requested and obtained documents related to
social media policy and cases from CBP. We searched senior leader emails to
determine their knowledge of, and actions taken, if any, regarding social media
misconduct. We interviewed senior CBP leaders, including the heads of
operational divisions and members of I’m 10-15. We also interviewed others
who were able to provide additional context for policies, procedures, and
specific cases. In total, we interviewed 22 individuals.
After learning about his possible impending retirement, we asked to interview
Acting Secretary McAleenan on October 18, 2019, and we repeated our request
on October 29, 2019. Two weeks later, on November 13, 2019, he left DHS
without responding to us. On January 2, 2020, we asked CBP to contact him
on our behalf again, but he did not respond. During congressional testimony
on July 18, 2019, he said the posts published by media sources were
unacceptable and did not reflect the character of most CBP employees.
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We conducted this review under the authority of the Inspector General Act of
1978, as amended, and according to the Quality Standards for Inspection and
Evaluation issued by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and
Efficiency.

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Appendix B
CBP Comments to the Draft Report
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington. DC 20229

U.S. Customs and
Border Protection

May 3, 2021

MEMORANDUM FOR:

Joseph V. Cuffari, Ph.D.
Inspector General

FROM:

Herny A. Moak, Jr.
Senior Component Acco untable Official
U.S . Customs and Border Protection

SUBJECT:

Management Response to Draft Repmt: "CBP Senior Leaders'
Handling of Social Media Misconduct"
(Project No. 19-065-SRE-CBP)

Thank you for the opportw1ity to comment on this draft report. U.S . Customs and Border
Protection (CBP) appreciates the work of the Office oflnspector General (OIG) in
planning and conducting its review and issuing this report.
CBP's core values are vigilance, service and integrity. In fulfilling our law enforcement
mission, CBP leadership demands the highest standards of honesty, impaitiality, and
professionalism, and we take pride in our organizational commitment to promote
accountability. CBP agrees completely with the OTG recommendations, and the
overarching theme concerning the importance of maintaining a culture of ethical behavior
at all times. CBP also agrees with the accounts provided by many of the CBP leaders
interviewed by the OIG, who asse1ted they took proactive steps to highlight potential
problems with the private "I'm 10-15" Facebook group, including officially reporting
when they saw Facebook postings that appeared to be inappropriate, well before the
initiation ofOIG's review. Lastly, CBP agrees there is no evidence the CBP leaders OTG
interviewed knew of the specific posts that served as the basis for this review and report.
That said, CBP is concerned OIG's draft repmt said CBP took no action to prevent
further misconduct when, in actuality, CBP leadership at the highest levels took, and will
continue to take, corrective action on any substantiated misconduct through CBP ' s wellestablished oversight processes. In the "I'm 10-15" case, in July 2019, senior CBP
leadership: (l) directed the inlmediate development of annual recurring social media
training that incorporated other aspects of existing training into a specific social media
training; ai1d (2) mandated that every CBP employee complete the training by
September 30th of each year.

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Also, CBP ' s well-established disciplinary process is itself a strong deterrent to future
misconduct. Senior CBP leadership oversaw this process, which, while providing due
process required by law to each individual charged with an offense, resulted in discipline
commensurate with documented misconduct. Underscoring the climate created by CBP
leadership, the OIG recognized the senior leader for the Office of Field Operations (OFO)
issued guidance to remind OFO employees of the acceptable use of social media. In
addition to those individuals identified by the OIG and investigated by the Office of
Professional Responsibility (OPR), many employees (including members of senior CBP
leadership) voluntarily contacted OPR to report themselves and others as members of the
'Tm 10-15" group. They did not wait for DHS to tell them to do so. Other CBP
employees filed complaints regarding what they perceived to be inappropriate social
media postings, which were followed-up on, as appropriate.
None of this happened by chance. Rather, it happened because of the culture created by
adherence to CBP ' s core values of vigilance, service and integrity. Today, CBP ' s OPR
periodically cautions employees on how social media posts can adversely affect their
federal employment. For example, in coordination with senior CBP leadership, CBP
reiterated expectations in CBP's " Standards of Conduct," Directive No 51735-0BB,
dated December 9, 2020, which states "employees will not make abusive, derisive,
profane, or harassing statements or gestures, or engage in any other conduct evidencing
hatred or invidious prejudice to or about one person or group on account of race, color,
religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability. " This is not new.
Standards of accountability such as these have been in place since the establishment of
CBP, in 2003 .
There can be no doubt that CBP takes all allegations of wrongdoing seriously. In the
case of the 'Tm 10-15" group, the Acting CBP Commissioner immediately established a
special Discipline Review Board (DRB) to process the "I ' m 10-15" cases based on a
request from the Acting DHS Secretary. The special DRB reviewed the investigative
reports for the social media cases, along with the CBP Table of Offenses and Penalties, to
propose appropriate disciplinary penalties. The then-Chief of Border Patrol also
appointed a single deciding official to render final agency decisions based on the merits
of each case. In accordance with government-wide statutory due process protections,
each employee was afforded access to representation , the opportunity to provide a written
and/or an oral reply to the proposed discipline, and a written final decision. After
consideration of each employee' s response and requisite analysis of the Douglas Factors,
12 factors required to be considered by the U.S . Merit Systems Protection Board to
determine the reasonableness of a penalty, the deciding official determined whether it
was appropriate to take disciplinary action and, as warranted, the final appropriate
corrective action in each case.

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Following July 2019 media reports that CBP employees posted offensive content in the
"I'm 10-15" group, CBP' s OPR opened and completed 136 cases related to the Facebook
group. CBP OPR' s investigations are just another example of how seriously the agency
takes ethics and integrity.
The draft report contained two recommendations, with which CBP concurs. Attached
find our detailed response to each recommendation. CBP previously submitted technical
comments addressing several accuracy, sensitivity, and contextual issues under a separate
cover for OIG's consideration.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to review and comment on this draft report. Please
feel free to contact me if you have any questions. We look forward to working with you
again in the future.

Attachment

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Attachment: Management Response to Recommendations
Contained in 19-065-SRE-CBP

OIG recommended that the Acting Commissioner of CBP:
Recommendation 1: Ensure uniform application of policies relating to social media
misconduct.
Response: Concur. CBP' s Office of Human Resources Management (HRM) took action
to ensure uniform application of policies relating to social media misconduct. Specifically,
CBP HRM revised CBP's Standards of Conduct and its Table of Offenses and Penalties on
December 9, 2020, by incorporating misconduct related to social media misuse. In
addition, in July 2019, CBP implemented an annual social media use training requirement
for all CBP employees. Finally, CBP modified its internal discipline review process to
provide management the ability to elevate serious allegations of social media misuse for
DRB consideration. Together, the actions completed provide CBP management the tools
and guidance for uniform application of CBP' s policies relating to social media
misconduct. On December 23, 2020, CBP provided copies of relevant documentation
corroborating the completion of these actions to the OIG.

CBP requests that the OIG consider this recommendation resolved and closed, as
implemented.
Recommendation 2: Establish social media awareness training for new recruits at
Border Patrol Academy and Field Operations Academy, and annual refresher training for
all employees.
Response: Concur. In July 2019, CBP's Office of Training and Development effected
"Personal Use of Social Media for CBP Employees" training, which is required for all CBP
employees, including all trainees, and requires annual recertification. Furthermore, trainees
are required to complete this training course in the Performance and Learning Management
System as part of the pre- or post-academy requirements. On December 23, 2020, CBP
provided copies of relevant documentation corroborating the completion of this action to the
OIG.

CBP requests that the OIG consider this recommendation resolved and closed, as
implemented.

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Appendix C
Major Contributors to This Report
John Shiffer, Chief Inspector
Elizabeth Kingma, Lead Inspector
Adam Brown, Senior Inspector
Ronald Hunter, Senior Inspector
Christopher Zubowicz, Attorney Advisor
James Lazarus, Attorney Advisor
Jillian Clouse, Attorney Advisor
Cara Murren, Investigator
Jason Wahl, Independent Referencer

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Appendix D
Report Distribution
Department of Homeland Security
Secretary
Deputy Secretary
Chief of Staff
Deputy Chiefs of Staff
General Counsel
Executive Secretary
Director, GAO/OIG Liaison Office
Assistant Secretary for Office of Policy
Assistant Secretary for Office of Public Affairs
Assistant Secretary for Office of Legislative Affairs
DHS Component Liaison
Office of Management and Budget
Chief, Homeland Security Branch
DHS OIG Budget Examiner
Congress
Congressional Oversight and Appropriations Committees

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Additional Information and Copies
To view this and any of our other reports, please visit our website at:
www.oig.dhs.gov.
For further information or questions, please contact Office of Inspector General
Public Affairs at: DHS-OIG.OfficePublicAffairs@oig.dhs.gov.
Follow us on Twitter at: @dhsoig.

OIG Hotline

To report fraud, waste, or abuse, visit our website at www.oig.dhs.gov and click
on the red "Hotline" tab. If you cannot access our website, call our hotline at
(800) 323-8603, fax our hotline at (202) 254-4297, or write to us at:
Department of Homeland Security
Office of Inspector General, Mail Stop 0305
Attention: Hotline
245 Murray Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20528-0305

 

 

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