February 2, 2005
Gov. Fires Back at Ex-Homeland Security Chief (Albuquerque Journal)
By Kate Nash, Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FEó Gov. Bill Richardson's office said Tuesday that Brig. Gen. Annie Sobel resigned her post as head of the state's Office of Homeland Security after she was presented with a list of problems with her job performance.
"A review of public records was conducted and showed a lack of attendance and an overall (lack of) attention to her duties, mismanagement of her office and a general ignorance of basic procurement issues resulting in potential state liability," said Richardson spokesman Billy Sparks.
Sparks spoke in response to a statement Sobel issued earlier Tuesday through her attorney, Paul Kennedy. That statement was released one day after the Department of Public Safety announced Sobel had resigned.
Sobel, appointed by Richardson in 2003, defended her work in the statement.
She said Richardson's office mandated who was hired in the Office of Homeland Security and that she never had full information about how certain federal grant money was spent.
Just how that grant money was used caught the eye of a federal agency.
The federal Office of Domestic Preparedness has been looking into whether some staffers in New Mexico's homeland security office dedicated their time to the duties outlined in a federal grant.
Sobel has denied any wrongdoing. The state hasn't heard what, if anything, it will have to do about the grant money. The state could have to pay back the money, or the funds could be deducted from future grants.
Sobel declined to comment on Richardson's comments Tuesday. But her husband, Rob Duncan, said he took offense at the allegations by the Governor's Office.
"These are very untrue and very serious charges, and instead of reacting emotionally we will compile a paper trail that shows the truth," Duncan said.
Sobel in her statement said the people hired in her office "were directly mandated through the governor's chief of staff" and she didn't have any authority over who was hired.
"I was told whom to hire, and what position and salary to assign them, by the Governor's Office," she wrote.
Sobel said she repeatedly asked that she be made the point of contact on the grant, which would have made her legally accountable to the Office of Domestic Preparedness on how grant money was spent.
She said U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge was aware that she wasn't the point of contact and that Ridge urged Richardson to make her the contact.
Sparks called Sobel's statement "inaccurate and full of misinformation."
Sparks said several issues arose in the past few months that caused the Governor's Office to look at Sobel's work, including the amount of time she spent running the office.
"Attendance was definitely an issue," Sparks said.
Tim Manning, acting director of the homeland security office, said Sobel spent "a majority" of her time on National Guard work.
Apart from her job with the state, Sobel is a brigadier general in the Air National Guard. She also works as a biological and chemical warfare analyst at Sandia National Laboratories. She's nationally regarded as an expert on weapons of mass destruction.
In announcing her resignation this week, Sobel said she would focus on her work as a scientist at Sandia.
Sobel, who also is a medical doctor, was earning $135,000 a year, half of which was paid by Sandia and half of which was paid by the state.
Manning, who was deputy director under Sobel, said Tuesday there was an attempt under Sobel's watch to "do a sole-source, no-bid, unsolicited contract" with a company for homeland security training exercises.
"We stopped that at the last minute," he said.
He added that the company conducted one training exercise for free and then conducted another without a contract having been signed.
DPS Secretary John Denko said Sobel's huge workload could have caused her to resign.
"It became very stressful for her, and I think this was just a personal decision she made," he said.
Denko called Sobel a "very, very talented individual" for whom he has the "highest regard."
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