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ICYMI: Examiner Investigation: Temporary IG Subject to Agency Manipulators Covering Up Waste


Washington, D.C., December 2, 2014 -

“The IG was supposed to be independent, was supposed to have unfettered access to all material, and was to share whatever they found with the Congress,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee that oversees the Interior Department. “With Mary Kendall, we have found that to be simply not the case. She has said in front of our committee that they withhold some stuff so they can continue to have a relationship with the department…I’m sorry. That’s not what the IG is all about. That’s not what they should be doing.”


Examiner Investigation: Temporary IG Subject to Agency Manipulators Covering Up Waste
Mark Flatten
Washington Examiner
Published: December 2, 2014

Mary Kendall does not hide her desire to be the Department of Interior’s permanent inspector general. She has held the job on an interim basis since 2009.

Kendall touts her close relationships and ability to work with top agency managers. They have praised her willingness to resolve management problems informally without the need for embarrassing formal reports.

The problem with that approach is inspectors general are supposed to be independent watchdogs of federal agencies, rooting out waste, fraud and abuse and reporting their findings to Congress and the public.

“The IG was supposed to be independent, was supposed to have unfettered access to all material, and was to share whatever they found with the Congress,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee that oversees the Interior Department.

“With Mary Kendall, we have found that to be simply not the case. She has said in front of our committee that they withhold some stuff so they can continue to have a relationship with the department,” said the Washington state Republican.

“I’m sorry. That’s not what the IG is all about. That’s not what they should be doing,” Hastings said.

Kendall watered down a report about renewable energy programs favored by Interior managers and President Obama, deleting negative findings and retaining language that supported the administration’s position, according to Hastings’ committee.

When her own auditors objected to the “glad-handing” with department management, Kendall killed the report outright.

On another occasion, Kendall’s chief of staff arbitrarily closed an investigation into alleged retaliation against an agency scientist who criticized a report that backed an important policy objective of former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Kendall even agreed to serve on a high-profile policymaking committee appointed by Salazar, then refused to acknowledge a conflict of interest when that committee’s conclusions were the subject of an investigation by her own office.

When her own investigator complained that the White House was hindering the investigation, Kendall ordered him to back off, then had any reference to stonewalling removed from the final IG report.

She continues to block efforts of the Natural Resources Committee, which has resorted to issuing subpoenas to obtain IG reports that would normally be publicly available.

“The end result is the information is not given, so the public has no right to know what happened,” Hastings said.

Kendall declined to be interviewed by the Washington Examiner.

Interim IGs such as Kendall are notorious for becoming the toadies of agency management, even though they are supposed to be independent, according to critics in Congress and outside watchdog groups.

There are now 10 interim IGs among 72 positions across the federal government. Kendall is the longest-serving IG in an interim position.

The longest vacancy had been at the State Department, where temporary IGs ran the office for nearly six years before Steve Linick was confirmed for the permanent job in September 2013.

IGs are supposed to report jointly to Congress and the president. But the president appoints them and is the only one who can fire them.

Even permanent IGs are subject to pressure to avoid embarrassing the administration or agency heads, critics say.

That pressure is magnified for interim IGs, especially those bucking for a permanent job.

Permanent IGs are better positioned to resist the pressure by going public or finding allies in Congress, said Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who has waged a bipartisan effort for years to get a permanent IG named at the State Department.

“Interim IGs are more likely to become lapdogs of an administration,” Royce said. “They are seen as temporary occupants of their offices without a genuine mandate from the administration and Congress.”

Interim appointees who are too aggressive risk alienating agency managers, who often have a say in who gets the permanent position, said Michael Smallberg, an investigator with the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog organization.

Their findings can also be embarrassing to the president, particularly if inappropriate White House meddling is exposed.

“Even the appearance that an IG is soft-peddling its work to curry favor with agency management can really undermine the watchdog’s credibility,” Smallberg said.

“There is always going to be an appearance problem unless you have someone in place who is truly independent and can assure he is going to follow all the clues where they lead, and that he is not captured by the very people that he is supposed to be investigating,” Smallberg said.

“The concern is that someone who is in that long-term acting position may be easier to influence, may be more prone to soft-peddling his reports or findings, especially if it is well known that he is angling for the permanent job,” he said.

Reports that interim IGs have been too soft on agency managers have been raised by congressional committees, whistleblowers and their own internal investigators at a half-dozen Cabinet-level agencies in the past few years.

In 2013, Lynne Halbrooks, the interim IG at the Department of Defense, was accused of covering up embarrassing findings involving former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

An unissued draft IG report found Panetta had disclosed top secret information to the writers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty” on the killing of Osama bin Laden.

That conclusion was deleted from the final version of the report that was released publicly in June 2013, four months after Panetta left his job as defense secretary.

POGO obtained the draft report and published it along with emails from a whistleblower inside the Defense IG’s office who complained about management interference to protect Pentagon higher-ups.

A week after the sanitized verison of the report was issued, President Obama named Jon Rymer the permanent IG at the Defense Department.

Similar reports that IG investigations were skewed for political reasons were leveled in 2013 against Charles Edwards, then the acting inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security.

Edwards, who openly sought the permanent appointment, was accused by one of his own investigators of covering up an embarrassing report on the Secret Service prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, until after the 2012 presidential election.

One nugget allegedly buried was evidence that a member of the White House advance team took a prostitute to his room before the president arrived in Colombia in April 2012.

A bipartisan investigation by a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee, confirmed in April 2014 that information that was embarrassing to the agency “was altered or removed” from the IG’s report on the prostitution scandal.

The IG report was published in January 2013, two months after Obama was re-elected.

The committee investigation also concluded that Edwards misused his office for personal gain and may have retaliated against whistleblowers who complained about internal cover-ups.

Edwards was chided by the subcommittee for his “inadequate understanding of the importance of OIG independence and his frequent communications and personal friendships with senior DHS officials.”

He also “directed reports to be altered or delayed to accommodate senior DHS officials.”

“Mr. Edwards jeopardized the independence of the DHS Office of Inspector General,” the committee report said. “Mr. Edwards did not understand the importance of independence.”

Edwards insisted to congressional investigators that he did not go soft on DHS administrators. He said any changes made to investigative reports were part of the normal editing process, a common response from IGs caught withholding damaging findings.

Edwards abruptly resigned Dec. 16, 2013, three days before the Senate subcommittee was to hold a hearing to confront him with the charges.

John Roth became the permanent inspector general at DHS in March 2014, a month before the scathing Senate report was issued.

The list does not stop there.

Interim IGs at the departments of State and Veterans Affairs have also been accused of softening investigative reports under pressure from agency administrators.

Last month, Michael Carroll, acting IG at the U.S. Agency for International Development, withdrew his nomination for the permanent job just before the Washington Post published an article stating that embarrassing information about potentially illegal payments to the Egyptian government was deleted from an IG report.

Cases such as those illustrate why presidents are often slow to appoint permanent IGs, said Smallberg of POGO.

“The concern of course is that a president or agency official would want to keep that position temporary or vacant as long as possible to minimize aggressive oversight,” Smallberg said. “You can’t rely on agencies to police themselves. You need an independent watchdog to look at the facts and follow them where they may lead, and ultimately call a strike a strike if they find a real problem. Ultimately, as taxpayers, we need someone like that.”

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