Biden administration fires most Homeland Security Advisory Council members

32: Never before were so many members being dismissed at once

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas


Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas fired most members of the department’s independent advisory council on Friday, a purge that included several allies of former president Donald Trump and veteran officials who served under both parties. Former Department of Homeland Security officials and advisory board members who worked under Democratic and Republican administrations said they could not remember so many members being dismissed at once, as the general practice of past administrations was to allow appointees to serve out their terms before replacing them.

The council is unpaid and includes leaders from state and local government, law enforcement, the private sector and academia who advise the agency on issues such as immigration, terrorism, crime and national disasters. Members serve one- to three-year terms and meet about four times a year.

The removal of more than 30 board members comes as the Biden administration tries to rid the department of Trump-era policies and practices, especially on immigration, and as it has struggled to shelter and care for an unprecedented number of migrant children and teenagers who have arrived at the southwest border without their parents.

DHS officials said Mayorkas would conduct an assessment of the council and reconstitute it with bipartisan members who better reflect the diversity of the United States and the people DHS serves.

Mayorkas said he plans to retain Chairman William Bratton, the former police commissioner in New York and police chief in Los Angeles, and Vice Chair Karen P. Tandy, a retired administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. William H. Webster, former director of the FBI and the CIA, will remain the council’s chair emeritus.

But everyone else is out.

“In the service of an orderly transition to a new model for the [Homeland Security Advisory Council] , I have ended the term of current HSAC members,” Mayorkas wrote in a letter Friday obtained by The Washington Post. “I will reconstitute the HSAC in the next few weeks, once the new model has been developed.”

The Trump administration typically allowed the terms of board members to lapse before replacing them. In 2018, four members of the council — all Obama administration appointees — resigned in protest of the Trump administration separating migrant parents from their children at the border, calling the policy “morally repugnant.”

Juliette Kayyem — a former top DHS official during the Obama administration who was appointed to the council in May 2015 — said she was not aware of any precedent for a large-scale purge. Her appointment was not renewed in May 2017, she said, after she publicly criticized Trump’s so-called “Muslim Ban,” which initially barred travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

“I had been very outspoken,” she said.

Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), ranking Republican of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Mayorkas’s “action sends the message that this Administration has no intention of upholding a bipartisan, unifying approach to securing our homeland.”

“The HSAC is not intended to be an echo chamber for what the current DHS Secretary wants to hear,” he 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.”

Bratton, who remains the chairman of the council, said it is common for new leaders to appoint fresh advisers. He noted that earlier this year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suspended the work of hundreds of members of advisory committees pending a review. Bratton said some members of the DHS council brought “phenomenal” expertise to the job and may be asked to return. Others will not.

He said Mayorkas’s goal is to have a bipartisan, diverse council with expertise in the major issues he confronts: domestic and international terrorism, cybersecurity and immigration, which Bratton said “is first and foremost right now.”

The current council also is made up primarily of White men, Bratton said, and new appointees likely will include more women, people of color and other underrepresented groups.

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