An email from Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson reported by several news outlets and obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) announced to the Department’s staff that Assistant Secretary for Administration Suzanne Israel Tufts will become the new acting inspector general at the Interior Department.
The move is surprising, given the Interior Department already has an acting inspector general, Mary Kendall, who has served in that role for over nine years. Kendall’s office has been conducting several investigations involving Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Tufts appears to lack any government oversight experience.
Tufts’s current position at HUD is a political appointment, and she has served at the Department since December 2017, during a time when Secretary Carson was facing public scrutiny after a whistleblower alleged he wasted taxpayer dollars to lavishly decorate his office. That whistleblower—Helen Foster, who was at the time a senior career official at HUD—said she was demoted and Tufts took over her duties after she internally raised concerns, according to The Guardian; Foster subsequently filed a retaliation complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. Carson has denied retaliating against Foster.
Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at POGO, issued the following statement:
This is a puzzling move. Replacing one acting inspector general with another who has no significant government oversight experience, and at a time when there are several ongoing investigations involving Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s activities, is politically suspect. They shouldn’t be changing hats right now, when there are numerous investigations left to be completed. The prolonged tenure of an acting inspector general at the Interior Department is a larger problem, but this move does nothing to address that.
Many inspector general offices across the federal government go long periods of time without Senate-confirmed leaders—this troubling issue is not unique to this administration. The move announced in Secretary Carson’s email is not what POGO had in mind when we sent a letter to President Trump this past July urging him to fill inspector general vacancies.
Inspectors general serve as crucial independent watchdogs within federal agencies, and are indispensable to making our government effective and accountable. These watchdogs investigate agency mismanagement, waste, fraud, and abuse, and provide recommendations to improve federal programs and the work of federal agencies.