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If terrorists launched another attack on America, Clark Kent Ervin, the acting inspector general for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, knows exactly what he and his staff would do. “We would assess the degree to which the department effectively responded to the attack, by minimizing the loss of life and damage and recovering as quickly as possible. We would also seek to determine whether the attack could have been prevented by means of a better and earlier intelligence and more strenuous efforts to limit vulnerabilities,” Ervin says. With his nomination for the Homeland Security post pending before a U.S. Senate committee, Ervin — a Houston native and former general counsel and deputy attorney general to then-Texas attorney general and now U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — already has assumed the challenging responsibility of uncovering any problems with the Homeland Security Department. President George W. Bush nominated Ervin for the Homeland Security post on Jan. 24. More than three months have passed, and he has yet to be formally confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Ervin declines to comment on the delay. Leslie Phillips, the spokeswoman for the minority side of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which is responsible for recommending Ervin for confirmation by the full Senate, says the delay is not significant. Democratic senator and presidential hopeful Joseph Lieberman is the ranking minority member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. “This is just the normal review process. It is a long process,” Phillips says. “There are no politics going on here. We are just reviewing [Ervin's] record.” Under Ervin’s direct supervision as acting inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are some 457 staff members, including auditors, criminal investigators and four lawyers. He oversees the inspections of bookkeeping at various bureaus within the department and is expected to root out fraud, waste and mismanagement. “Our goal is to help the [individual] departments achieve their mission in the most effective, efficient and economical manner possible,” Ervin says. “Here at DHS, we will, for example, inspect operations at our borders to determine whether vulnerabilities that could be exploited by terrorists are being addressed. We will audit the various grant programs that the department has to ensure that monies are being spent for the intended purposes and to determine the degree to which the expenditures are producing results.” He also intends to root out wrongdoers. “Where we have reason to believe that there is fraud or other criminal activity on the part of department employees, contractors or grantees, we will investigate and refer any substantiated allegations to the [U.S.] Department of Justice for criminal prosecution,” Ervin says. DHS must meet high and daunting expectations. In the post-Sept. 11, post-Operation Iraqi Freedom era, hopes are high that the agency will function flawlessly. As inspector general, Ervin will scrutinize an agency with a $41.3 billion budget, 170,000 employees and some 22 formerly independent federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Customs and Border Inspection. “Challenge is the right word,” says Peter Saba, general counsel to the U.S. Export-Import Bank and a Harvard Law School classmate of Ervin’s. “It is an enormous and critically important job, but if anyone is right for that job, it’s Clark. He has the unquestioned integrity, a high level of intelligence and a strong work ethic.” Andy Taylor, who was the first assistant deputy to Cornyn when Ervin worked at the Texas Office of the Attorney General, agrees that Ervin has the right stuff. “Clark has never shied away from difficult assignments. He is uniquely qualified to give the type of scrutiny all Americans deserve of the new agency. He is extremely well-organized and clear-thinking,” says Taylor, a Houston lawyer who in April left Locke Liddell & Sapp to start his own Houston firm with one associate. “Clark is an outstanding public servant, and will be a great asset to this critical new department,” Cornyn said at the time of Ervin’s nomination to DHS. “He served with great distinction in Texas, has been an outstanding manager at the Department of State, and in what will surely be a difficult task, will help ensure the efficient, fair and effective management of the Department of Homeland Security.” FLYING HIGH Ervin — who was given his superheroesque first and middle name by an older brother — has anything but the typical background of his fellow Republicans in the upper ranks of President George W. Bush’s administration. The son of a bricklayer for an oil company, Ervin grew up in Houston’s impoverished Third Ward. While he was in the sixth grade at a public school, one of his teachers, who admired his piano playing and interest in learning, started a campaign to get Ervin into an exclusive and prestigious private school in Houston: the Kincaid School. With the teacher pressing his case, Ervin says, he became the first black boy ever to attend the school, the same institution that Bush attended several years earlier. “I tend to view him less as an anomaly and more as an extraordinary person,” says Robert Miller, a partner in Locke Liddell & Sapp, where Ervin was an associate before going into state government at the attorney general’s office. “You don’t necessarily know what his background is unless you get to know him well or you read about him in media accounts,” Miller says. After earning his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and then earning a masters degree from Oxford University in England as a Rhodes scholar, Ervin graduated from Harvard Law School in 1985. He worked as an associate with Houston’s Vinson & Elkins as well as Locke Liddell’s predecessor, Liddell, Sapp, Zivley, Hill & LaBoon. He also served as deputy director of policy for former President George H.W. Bush in the Office of National Service from 1989 to 1991. “My job [at the Office of National Service] was to help with promoting national service, with the goal that every American would do something in his or her community to make life better. We encouraged feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, mentoring children, befriending lonely elderly people,” Ervin recalls. “I helped to develop the strategy, to write presidential speeches on the subject, to plan presidential visits and other events to promote and recognize national service. I also served as one of the Bush Administration’s spokespersons on this issue.” In Texas, Ervin made several unsuccessful bids for elected office, including a try for a Southeast Houston 29th U.S. congressional seat in 1992 and an attempt for the District 135 state representative post in 1994. As a result, “I intend never to run for political office again,” Ervin says, adding, “please write that in capital letters.” “For political office, Clark’s time has yet to come,” says Taylor, who served as treasurer on his friend’s two campaigns. Taylor says he hopes to see Ervin return to Texas to run for political office again. In 1995, then-Texas Secretary of State Tony Garza (now the U.S. ambassador to Mexico) asked Ervin to serve as assistant secretary of state. Later, Ervin served under then-Texas Secretary of State Al Gonzales, who is now White House counsel. Ervin went to Washington, D.C., for President Bush’s inauguration in 2000, part of a small army of Texas lawyers who had worked for Bush when he was the governor of Texas and who were told by the administration’s transition team, Ervin says, to, upon the president’s election, express any interest they had in federal appointments. Ervin says it was U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell who steered him toward his first assignment with the Bush administration as inspector general for the U.S. Department of State. With an undergraduate degree in international affairs and his overseas stint as a Rhodes scholar, Ervin says, he always wanted to try his hand at matters related to diplomacy. White House transition team members had encouraged Ervin to consider positions in Latin American affairs and the legal division of the U.S. Department of State or as deputy chief of staff to Powell. But when Ervin met personally with Powell the day after the inauguration, Ervin says Powell told him, “‘I would not recommend those for you. I was thinking about you for the inspector general slot.’” Ervin recalls being flattered by Powell’s endorsement, and he assumed a role — first as a consultant and then four months later as inspector general — at the State Department with tremendous zeal in April 2001. During his 17-month tenure, Ervin revamped the management system for the inspector general’s staff of 225 people and four lawyers, restarted the previously waived practice of inspecting U.S. embassies for possible mismanagement every five years, and issued a report that criticized the State Department’s export control system as inefficient. So when Ervin received a call in January 2003 from the White House about moving to the Homeland Security position, he says he sought Powell’s advice. “I had just begun to make some changes and I did not want [Powell] to think I was being disloyal,” the 44-year-old lawyer says. Powell was resolute. “‘You owe it to the president,’” Ervin says Powell told him. For now, Ervin seems firmly ensconced in the East and his Washington, D.C., responsibilities. “I do see him staying more in D.C. for now,” Miller says. Ervin himself says he likes the East Coast and, having recently married a New York native, expects it would be a hard sell to get her back to Texas. Working for now out of temporary quarters with little more than a few posters and boxes in his office, Ervin believes the ground-floor opportunities at the newest federal agency are unprecedented. “One of the things that attracted me here was the confidence I had in Secretary [of Homeland Security Tom] Ridge. When I met with him, he stressed how much he understood the role of the inspector general and that he would involve me in the earliest stages of deliberations. And I have been.”

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