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Head of INS Organizes Effort to Keep His Job : Nelson Denounces Scathing Audit of His Agency, Lobbies Congress and White House, Shows Film

Times Staff Writers

In an extraordinary effort to hold on to his job, Alan C. Nelson, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, has denounced a scathing Justice Department audit of his agency as “totally incorrect and an outrageous misrepresentation of facts.”

Nelson’s 61-page response to the recent audit contains language that is unusually blunt for a bureaucrat responding to criticism from his parent agency, even asserting that Justice Department auditors “plagiarized” criticisms from INS’ own evaluations. The reply is part of a full-court press by Nelson and his supporters to retain his job, an effort that includes heavy lobbying of Congress and the White House, distribution of a quarter-inch thick list of INS’ accomplishments and a $10,000 film heralding the agency and Nelson.

The audit, which portrayed INS as riddled with inefficiency, was made public two weeks ago. A few days later, Administration officials disclosed that Nelson will not be reappointed to the job he has held since 1982. Nelson also has come under fire for his plan to construct a 4-mile ditch at the San Diego border and his handling of the massive influx of Central Americans into South Texas.

Brands Reports as ‘Rumor’

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Asserting that he has not been told to leave, Nelson has branded reports of his impending departure as “rumor” and with renewed zeal is trying to counter the negative publicity that plagues him. Nevertheless, Administration officials reiterated Wednesday that they are seeking a replacement for Nelson.

Nelson’s effort to stay has turned into an increasingly public battle of wills between his supporters and Administration officials who want him to leave quietly. Rumors abound, including one that Nelson will be asked to stay on for a while.

Asked whether an agreement had been struck providing for Nelson to remain at the INS helm for a year, David Runkel, special assistant to Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh said: “There is no such deal.” He added that there have been no discussions on Nelson’s future between Thornburgh or any Justice Department official and Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), regarded as Nelson’s strongest ally on Capitol Hill.

‘Has Done What He Can’

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Simpson, GOP whip in the Senate, worked closely with Nelson during the passage of the landmark 1986 immigration reform legislation. Although in the past the senator has urged the Administration to keep Nelson, he has not done so lately, according to a spokesman, who said the senator “feels he has done what he can do in supporting” Nelson. “It’s not Alan Simpson’s style to be on the phone every day to Thornburgh.”

Runkel said: “I can’t say we have somebody ready to jump in that spot (INS commissioner) tomorrow, but there are discussions with people for that position.” He said that this is in keeping with Bush’s “wishes that his Administration have new faces.”

The “several” individuals under consideration for appointment as INS commissioner include “not only people we (at the Justice Department) have turned up, but suggestions by the White House as well,” Runkel said. He declined to name any of the prospects.

As for Nelson’s dismissal of reports that he would be replaced as “rumors,” Runkel said: “Nelson knows there’s a review going on. . . . “

Relies on Audits

Thornburgh relied heavily on detailed audits during his two terms as governor of Pennsylvania and is known to regard them as effective management tools.

In his response to the audit, Nelson said, “We fully concur with only five of the report’s findings, while strongly disagreeing with 25, or one-half.”

A finding that INS lacks a program to educate its employees in security matters “is simply not true,” Nelson said. And he called “inaccurate” the finding that INS fails to properly allocate its investigative resources.

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Responding to the assertion that the agency cannot account for thousands of citizenship certificates, Nelson said that the audit team was “careless,” adding that 95% of the alleged missing documents have been found. “This approach to reporting a finding is not consistent with acceptable audit procedures,” Nelson charged.

Response Under Review

Runkel confirmed that the INS response has been received and has been forwarded to the Justice Management Division for its review. “What happens next, I can’t say,” Runkel said.

In the five-month-old INS film, which a co-producer called “a morale booster” for INS personnel, Nelson’s name is mentioned 25 times--about one for each minute of the presentation. In the film, Rep. Duncan L. Hunter (R-Coronado) looks directly into the camera as if he were speaking to Nelson and says: “You will be around for a long time, because, frankly, no one wants your job.” The comment, while delivered in joking tones, a Justice Department source said, helps explain why Nelson has not already been replaced.


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