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Leading Committee Democrats Urge Scrutiny of New Interior Inspector General – Change Could Interfere with Zinke Investigations

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Washington, October 18, 2018 | comments

Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and leading Democratic Committee members sent a letter today to Michael E. Horowitz, chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), raising concerns about the replacement of Department of the Interior (DOI) Deputy Inspector General (IG) Mary L. Kendall with Suzanne Israel Tufts, a political appointee from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This move is particularly troubling considering the multiple investigations currently underway at DOI – including several surrounding Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke – and the potential for the personnel change to disrupt those investigations.

The lawmakers request, among other information, an assessment of Ms. Tufts’ qualifications and an explanation of whether she was vetted by CIGIE prior to her placement, “as required by law.”

Tufts is reportedly replacing Kendall in an “acting” capacity, calling into question what prompted the move and why an acting IG would be replaced by another acting IG. The full letter – co-signed by Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations; Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Water and Power; and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) – is available at http://bit.ly/2CRPoPt.

“It is not clear that the new acting IG is sufficiently qualified or politically independent to take the helm of the Office of Inspector General, particularly at such an important time for the office,” the lawmakers write. They continue:

The mere threat of replacing an IG when the head of the agency it oversees is under heavy scrutiny will send a signal to current and future IGs throughout the federal government that releasing unfavorable findings may threaten their job. It creates a permanent disincentive for the candor required for an effective IG and severs the independence that is the foundation of effective oversight over federal government waste, fraud, and abuse.

Tufts was brought in by the Trump administration following a scandal at HUD in which a whistleblower revealed the purchase of a $31,000 dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office, other budget irregularities, and the improper handling of public information requests made pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. Tufts replaced the whistleblower in that case.

 

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