There are concerns the staff firings could hurt McCaul’s tenure at the Homeland Security Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
A spate of sudden firings at the House Homeland Security Committee last month adds to a pattern of extensive turnover that has left members and staffers questioning the panel’s leadership and its commitment to border security and counterterrorism policy.
A new staff director for Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas cleaned house at the committee, dismissing five top policy staffers on June 20, including his top advisers on border security and counterterrorism, both of whom McCaul hired less than two years ago. There have been at least five other staff departures since McCaul became chairman last year.
The brain drain comes a few months after McCaul hired Brendan Shields to reorganize the panel as staff director — and leaves the full committee without some of its most experienced policy aides against the backdrop of a crisis of Central American children illegally crossing the Southern border and instability in Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Middle East.
“I kind of wonder if Brendan Shields has turned on a television in the last six months or picked up a New York Times,” said a former government official, who was not among the fired staffers but knows people involved with the committee. “Is he not paying attention to what’s going on in Syria? In Libya? … Has he turned on CNN and seen the holding pens with thousands of children coming across the border?”
McCaul and his spokesman declined to comment, and an email sent to Shields on July 11 garnered an automatic reply noting he was out of the country, but expected to return Monday. Shields was in Brazil during the FIFA World Cup, according to sources.
Interviews with a dozen current and former staffers and members close to the committee revealed that members have been told that the reorganization is meant to empower the subcommittees and reduce redundancies and staff overlap to save money. Yet the firings are only one part of what has been a wider staff exodus from the committee over the last year.