The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday moved to scrap a contract signed at the tail end of the Trump administration that could have allowed a union of deportation officers to stall the implementation of certain immigration policy changes.
The agreement, signed the day before President Biden's inauguration by Ken Cuccinelli, the second-in-command at DHS at the time, gave a union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportation officers the ability to "indefinitely delay" the implementation of agency policies, according to a whistle-blower complaint filed by the Government Accountability Project.
The complaint, filed earlier this month, said the contract would effectively grant AFGE National ICE Council 118, a 7,500-member organization that twice endorsed former President Donald Trump, "veto authority" over certain policy-making at ICE.
"The agreements grant NIC 118 extraordinary power and benefits — far more than what DHS agreed upon with its other employee unions which did not endorse President Trump," the Government Accountability Project said in its complaint.
A DHS spokesperson said the Chief Human Capital Officer at DHS notified ICE and the union in writing that the agreement had been "disapproved."
"As part of routine process and provided for by statute, the Department conducted a review of the terms of the agreement and determined that it was not negotiated in the interest of DHS and has been disapproved because it is not in accordance with applicable law," the DHS spokesperson told CBS News on Tuesday.
"DHS will make policy decisions in accordance with the law and based on what's best for national security, public safety, and border security while upholding our nation's values," the spokesperson continued.
Under a federal law, an agency head has 30 days to review and approve or disapprove such an agreement once it is signed.
The whistle-blower complaint accused Cuccinelli of "gross mismanagement, gross waste of government funds and abuse of authority" over the labor agreement.
"This abuse of authority is shocking," wrote David Seide, a lawyer representing the whistle-blower, who is described as a current federal employee that "possesses information concerning significant acts of misconduct."
"We are gratified that the head of the agency disapproved before it was too late," Seide said when reached for comment on Tuesday.
The Office of the Special Counsel has opened an investigation into the whistleblower complaint, sources familiar with the case tell CBS News.
Cuccinelli, an outspoken defender of Mr. Trump's hardline immigration policies, was tapped to be the deputy secretary at DHS in late 2019 after leading U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. A federal court and the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, found that he had been unlawfully appointed to the roles.
"We resolved many long-lingering issues with the ICE union, and it was done with strong legal guidance all along the way from the Office of the General Counsel, so we know it was thoroughly legal," Cuccinelli told CBS News in response to DHS' decision to scrap the agreement. "If I was not confident that the contract was both legal and good policy for ICE, I would not have signed off on it."
Moving forward, the ICE union could appeal DHS' move to block its agreement with the Federal Labor Relations Authority, challenging the Biden administration to a prolonged legal fight.
CBS News reached out to the ICE union that signed the agreement with the Trump administration.
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