Don’t Let the Revolving Door Hit You On the Way Out: DoD IG Jon Rymer Resigns with Little to Show For Himself
By: Nicholas Pacifico | December 3, 2015
On November 30, 2015, Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General (IG) Jon Rymer announced his resignation after only two years in the position. In his statements to staff, Rymer revealed his plans to head to the financial services industry, which he oversaw and regulated while acting as IG for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), from May 2012 to January 2013, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), from July 2006 to September 2013. Rymer’s brief tenure as DoD IG is stained with criticism regarding his office’s lack of independence, with Rymer being more of a lap dog than a watchdog.
The Project On Government Oversight cannot recommend much achieved during Rymer’s tenure aside from his office’s efforts in identifying overcharges for spare parts. While many of the problems with the DoD IG office didn’t start with him, he didn’t do anything to correct them. (For instance, the pre-Rymer DoD policy of not releasing certain unclassified reports unless FOIA’d remains intact, effectively shielding the DoD from scrutiny.) Instead, we have a number of incidents that call into question his ability to accomplish an IG’s mission: to act as a shelter for whistleblowers; root out waste, fraud, and abuse; and ultimately help agencies become more effective.
During Rymer’s tenure as DoD IG, his office attempted to narrow whistleblower protections and failed in its auditing duties, providing “vacuous” oversight in its Afghanistan efforts and being forced to rescind the clean bill of health it gave to a Marine Corps audit. Currently, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is investigating the DoD IG regarding allegations that DoD IG officials—including those within the general counsel’s office—destroyed evidence in the Thomas Drake case. Additionally, Rymer continues to defend former Acting DoD IG Lynne Halbrooks’ actions in covering up CIA leaks of confidential information to protect former CIA official Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense when DoD IG released their report.
While all of the above actions are cause for concern, the most important of Rymer’s shortcomings is his failure to support whistleblowers, encouraging an environment where many employees are so afraid of reprisal that they forgo reporting wrongdoings. Whistleblowers are pivotal to Congress’s ability to conduct its constitutional oversight duties and to federal agencies’ ability to effectively operate our government. Both the DoD and Congress must step up to hold accountable officials who illegally retaliate against whistleblowers. Rymer’s disregard for whistleblower retaliation and his attempts to narrow whistleblower protections only reinforces how important it is that Congress and the Administration appoint the right IG.
Congress needs to scrutinize the failures of Rymer’s office and determine whether the DoD IG’s number two man, Principal Deputy IG Glenn Fine, is the right person to replace him. We need real commitments from the next DoD IG to fix the problems preventing the agency from being free from waste, abuse, and fraud. We need an IG who supports whistleblowers and who can create an environment that does not have one in four employees so afraid of reprisal that they will not report suspected wrongdoing.
While Congress is appropriately focused on filling IG vacancies, they also need to consider the importance of having the right person for the job.