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Office of the General Counsel

Overview

The Office of the General Counsel comprises over 1,750 dedicated attorneys at headquarters and at operating components.

The General Counsel is Stevan Bunnell.

The Homeland Security Act defines the General Counsel as the "chief legal officer of the Department." In this role, he is ultimately responsible for all of the Department's legal determinations and for overseeing all of its attorneys. The General Counsel is also the Department's regulatory policy officer, managing the rulemaking program and ensuring that all Department of Homeland Security regulatory actions comply with relevant statutes and executive orders.

The Office of the General Counsel’s central tasks include:

  • providing complete, accurate, and timely legal advice on possible courses of action for the Department;
  • ensuring that Homeland Security policies are implemented lawfully, quickly, and efficiently;
  • protecting the rights and liberties of any Americans who come into contact with the Department;
  • facilitating quick responses to congressional requests for information; and
  • representing the Department in venues across the country, including in the immigration courts of the United States.

Organization

The Office of the General Counsel is made up of attorneys at headquarters on the general counsel's immediate staff, and attorneys working in the operating components.

View the Office of the General Counsel Organizational Chart (PDF - 1 page, 45 KB)

Headquarters. Each headquarters division is headed by an associate general counsel. Subdivisions within each headquarters division are headed by Assistant General Counsel:

  • Ethics Law Division (ELD):  ELD advises the Secretary, other senior Department leaders, and headquarters employees on the application of conflict of interest statutes and regulations, Government ethics regulations and Departmental ethics policy.  The Ethics Division also coordinates advice with lawyers in the other OGC divisions to provide a consistent and efficient response to ethics issues.  The office assists the DHS Designated Agency Ethics Official in overseeing ethics program compliance in the DHS operating components.  Critical legal issues include advice regarding conflict rules, gift acceptance (foreign gifts, acceptance of free attendance at non-Federal entity events, travel gifts, employee gifts), endorsement and preferential treatment mitigation, impartiality, misuse of position, post-Government employment and teaching, speaking and writing rules.
  • General Law Division (GLD): GLD advises the Secretary and other senior Department leaders and coordinates with lawyers in the operating components on critical legal issues in areas such as acquisition and procurement law, labor and employment law, appropriations, fiscal, and grants law, general tort law and related claims, environmental and real property legal issues, and a large variety of matters in the administrative law area, including questions involving the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act,  delegations and authorities. GLD also operates and oversees the Board for Correction of Military Records of the United States Coast Guard. 
  • Immigration Law Division (IMM): IMM provides expertise in U.S. immigration and nationality law, including removal, arrest and detention authorities, national security matters, asylum, refugee and other protection-related issues, matters related to unaccompanied minors and victims of human trafficking, inspection and admissibility issues, naturalization and citizenship, constitutional and international human rights of migrants, immigrant and nonimmigrant visas/status.  IMM also assists with administrative and federal court litigation of immigration-related matters and immigration-related legislative, regulatory and policy initiatives.
  • Legal Counsel Division (LCD): LCD provides legal review, guidance, and support on significant litigation matters, including regular coordination with the Department of Justice.  LCD attorneys also serve as experts on the Department’s statutory authorities, including analyzing existing powers and assessing the impact of pending legislation. Additionally, LCD provides legal support on privacy and civil rights and civil liberties issues, and responds to significant inquiries from Congress and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
  • National Protection and Programs Law Division (NPPLD): Supports the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD).  NPPD leads the national effort to protect and enhance the resilience of the nation’s physical and cyber infrastructure.  NPPD has four Subcomponents: Cybersecurity and Communications, Federal Protective Service, Office of Biometric Identity Management, and Office of Infrastructure Protection.  NPPLD gives legal advice on a myriad of issues including cybersecurity, law enforcement issues, Privacy Act, regulatory issues, and information sharing. 
  • Operations and Enforcement Law Division (OELD): OELD provides legal advice and guidance to the Secretary, the General Counsel, and other senior Department leaders on enforcement and operational activities designed to protect the United States from, respond to, and recover from both natural and man-made threats.  OELD typically becomes involved in issues that concern Secretarial authorities, two or more DHS components, or one DHS component and the interagency.
  • Regulatory Affairs Law Division (RLD): RLD manages and oversees the regulatory process for the Department, and provides leadership for regulatory and administrative law practice matters across DHS.  RLD advises on legal and economic matters associated with Department regulatory actions, and ensures that Department regulatory actions comply with constitutional, statutory, and other legal requirements. 
  • Technology Programs Law Division (TPLD): TPLD provides legal support to the Science and Technology Directorate, the Office of Health Affairs, and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office on legal issues related to research and development, compliance, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, grants and other assistance, acquisition, technology transfer, and medical and health security matters, including biodefense and biosurveillance.  TPLD is also home to the Department’s Intellectual Property Group, which provides Department-wide legal support for intellectual property law matters, including but not limited to patent, trademark, copyright, data rights, and litigation issues.

Components. Each operating component legal office is headed by a Chief Counsel or equivalent:

  • Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Office of the Chief Counsel. The Chief Counsel for TSA is Francine Kerner. The responsibilities of the TSA Chief Counsel include providing legal advice to the Commissioner and other senior TSA leaders on legal issues associated with the TSA mission, as well as overseeing both criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws relating to transportation security; conducting or managing litigation before courts or administrative tribunals; assisting in the development of TSA’s legislative and regulatory programs; interpreting applicable statutory or regulatory authority; helping to shape TSA’s legal posture in international matters, and advising TSA on implementing TSA security directives and necessary adjustments to operating procedures.

  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Office of the Chief Counsel. The Chief Counsel for CBP is Scott Falk. The responsibilities of the CBP Chief Counsel include providing legal advice to the commissioner and other senior CBP leaders on legal issues associated with the CBP mission, as well as providing legal advice and support to all components of CBP; representing CBP in administrative hearings; providing litigation support to the Department of Justice; completing the administrative collection of civil fines and penalties; providing comprehensive legal services to all components of CBP; reviewing legislative and regulatory proposals; and providing legal training to operational staff.

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Office of the Chief Counsel. The Chief Counsel (acting) for USCIS is Dea Carpenter. The responsibilities of the USCIS Chief Counsel include providing legal advice to the director and other senior USCIS leaders on legal issues associated with the USCIS mission, as well as providing legal support to USCIS components and the DOJ Office of Immigration Litigation; providing legal advice on the adjudication of applicants for temporary visa status, permanent residence, citizenship and asylum; offering legal education and training to USCIS personnel; reviewing legislative and regulatory proposals; representing USCIS in visa petition appeals and in administrative proceedings.

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of the Principal Legal Advisor. The Principal Legal Advisor for ICE is Peter S. Vincent. The responsibilities of the Principal Legal Advisor include providing legal advice to the Assistant Secretary and other senior ICE leaders on legal issues associated with the ICE mission, as well as representing the Department in all exclusion, deportation, and removal proceedings; prosecuting removal court cases; handling Board of Immigration Appeal cases; providing litigation support to U.S. Attorney Offices; assisting with removal order reinstatements, administrative removal orders, and expedited removals; reviewing legislative and regulatory proposals; providing legal training and ethics guidance to all ICE personnel; and representing ICE in court and administrative proceedings.

  • U.S. Secret Service (USSS), Office of the Chief Counsel. The Chief Counsel for USSS is Donna L. Cahill. The responsibilities of the USSS Chief Counsel include providing legal advice to the Director and other senior Secret Service leaders on legal issues associated with the Secret Service protective and investigative missions, and its administrative responsibilities, as well as providing support to the DOJ in their defense of claims against the Secret Service and its employees; preparing comments on proposed legislation, draft testimony, and policy; directing the agency’s ethics program; reviewing documents related to assets forfeiture; making determinations concerning the release of information under the FOIA, the Privacy Act, civil/criminal discovery, subpoena or other request; and representing the Secret Service in administrative hearings.

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Office of the Chief Counsel. The Acting Chief Counsel for FEMA is Adrian Sevier. The responsibilities of the FEMA Chief Counsel include providing legal advice to the Administrator and other senior FEMA leaders on legal issues associated with the FEMA mission, as well as interpreting applicable statutory or regulatory authority with respect to disaster and emergency assistance, national preparedness, National Continuity Programs, the National Flood Insurance Program and the National Response Framework; conducting or managing litigation before courts and administrative tribunals; providing legal advice on fiscal law issues, procurement actions, FOIA and Privacy Act; reviewing legislative and regulatory proposals; and providing training and counseling through the Alternative Dispute Resolution Program to reduce complaints against the agency and improve workplace communication and coordination.

  • U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Office of the Judge Advocate General. The Judge Advocate General for the USCG is Rear Admiral Frederick J. Kenney (PDF, Pages 1). The responsibilities of the Judge Advocate General include delivering legal services throughout the Coast Guard to support mission execution, managing the Coast Guard Legal Program, and providing legal advice to the commandant and other senior leaders in areas including international and maritime law, including drug and alien migrant interdiction, counterterrorism and defense operations, marine safety and facilitating maritime commerce, and protecting living marine resources and the environment; military justice; litigation and claims; legislation and rulemaking; environmental law; legal assistance; and major systems acquisition.

  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), Office of the Chief Counsel. The Chief Counsel for FLETC is David Brunjes. The responsibilities of the FLETC Chief Counsel include providing legal advice to the Director and other senior FLETC leaders on legal issues associated with the FLETC mission, as well as representing FLETC in Equal Employment Opportunity and employment disciplinary cases; representing FLETC in administrative hearings; providing legal advice and assistance in procurement related matters and representing FLETC in bid protest and contract disputes; processing and adjudicating claims under the Military and Civilian Employees Compensation Act and the Federal Tort Claims Act; providing legal advice and assistance on fiscal law issues and legislative matters; providing legal advice on information/intellectual law matters to include copyright, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act; and providing legal training for federal, state, local and international law enforcement officers attending basic and advanced training at FLETC’s four domestic and two international training sites.

Contact

  • By mail or phone:
    Office of the General Counsel
    Department of Homeland Security
    Mail Stop 3650
    Washington, DC 20528

    Phone: 202-282-9822
    Fax: 202-282-9186
Last Published Date: June 13, 2014
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