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Monday, September 3, 2012

Suzanne Barr Resigns Amid Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Suit

     When President Obama named former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano head of the Department of Homeland Security, a lot of law enforcement professionals saw the appointment for what it was--a political pay-off to a loyal party supporter. (Obama pulled an even bigger political stunt when he made Eric Holder, a political partisan devoted to defending criminals and terrorists rather than prosecuting them, U.S. Attorney General. While attorney general picks are always political, this appointment was even more ideological and unfortunate than President Johnson's selection of Ramsey Clark in the late 1960s.) The Department of Homeland Security itself represents a massive bureaucratic mess created as a feel-good measure following 9-11. When something bad happens that politicians have no idea how to prevent, they simply create more government that ends up making things worse. Because the Department of Homeland Security is an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy over ICE, the FBI, ATF, the U.S. Border Control, the DEA, and other federal law enforcement agencies, the head of this useless mountain of paper shufflers is, according to the federal organizational chart, the nation's top law enforcement officer. Good heavens.  

     Shortly taking office as head of homeland security in 2009, Janet Napolitano rewarded a pair of women who had served under her as governor of Arizona, with plumb administrative positions in the agency. Neither of these women were even remotely qualified for their jobs. (That's assuming, of course, that their jobs had anything to do with law enforcement. If their jobs were irrelevant to homeland security, they shouldn't have been hired in the first place.) Napolitano made Dora Schriro, the former director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, her "Special Advisor." It's hard to imagine what useful advice a corrections administrator could offer the head of homeland security. Special advisor, indeed.

     In another of her first appointments as head of homeland security, Napolitano named Suzanne Barr, her former chief of legislative affairs, to the position of chief of staff to John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Barr, a 1995 graduate of the University of Arizona, and one time political aide to Arizona's U.S. Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain, was even less fit for her new job than Schriro was for hers.

     Entry level law enforcement personnel have to pass intelligence tests, psychological and physical exams, background investigations, and survive the rigors of training before they are allowed to enforce the law. Their immediate supervisors, and the middle management officers, have been tested on the job. But the closer you get to the top layers of the federal law enforcement bureaucracy, the less qualified, and more political the personnel. That's because the political hacks appointed by the president in turn hire political sycophants to remind them of their greatness. This is an employment phenomenon worse than the so-called Peter Principal where employees are promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. In the federal government, there is no room of the top for these upwardly mobile employees because politicians fill these spots with appointees who begin their jobs as incompetent employees of the agency. Perhaps we could call this the political hack effect, or trickle down incompetence.

     In May 2012, James T. Hayes, Jr., the special agent in charge of the ICE office in New York City, filed a discrimination and retaliation suit against Janet Napolitano. According the the $4 million federal action, the head of homeland security had pushed Hayes aside in 2009 to make room for the less qualified Dora Schriro. Hayes was transferred from ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C. to New York after he threatened to file a lawsuit against Napolitano. (Schriro left her special advisor position at homeland security in 2010. She is currently the head of New York City's Department of Corrections.)

      Hayes, who started out in 1995 as a border patrol agent in Texas, and worked his way up to the position of director of ICE Detention and Removal, an operation with a staff of 8,500 and a $2.5 billion budget, claims in his lawsuit that Napolitano's appointee Suzanne Barr had created a "frat house" work environment at ICE designed to intimidate and humiliate male employees.  

      In mid-August 2012, shortly after The New York Post broke the story of the discrimination and retaliation suit against Janet Napolitano which includes the salacious allegations against Suzanne Barr, the ICE director's chief of staff took a two week leave of absence. In the lawsuit, plaintiff Hayes, in great detail, accuses Suzanne Barr of vulgar, lewd, and highly inappropriate workplace behavior. According to the suit, Barr once called a colleague's hotel room and said, in crude language, that she wanted to give him oral sex. She has also been accused of telling a male subordinate that he was "sexy" before asking him a personal question about a particular part of his anatomy. Barr allegedly stole a male staffer's BlackBerry and sent a message to his female supervisor indicating he had a crush on her, and engaged in sexual fantasies involving the two of them. On another occasion, Barr had "removed the entire contents of the offices of three male employees including nameplates, computer and telephones, to the men's bathroom at ICE headquarters."

     On Saturday, September 1, 2012, Suzanne Barr resigned her high-level position at ICE. In her resignation letter to Director John Morton, she called James Hayes' allegations "unfounded." She was leaving ICE, she said, to spare the agency further embarrassment.

     On the day of Barr's resignation, Congressman Peter King, the chairman of the House of Representative's Homeland Security Committee, said that James Hayes' legal action "raises the most serious questions about management practices and personnel policies at the Department of Homeland Security." No kidding. What else is new? 

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