Obama Urged to Replace Scandal-Ridden Interior Watchdog
Still, the Interior Department told committee staff that no ethics cases involving political appointees, including Black, had been referred for investigation over the past four years.
A senior official with the IG's office told the committee that staff were aware of Black's relationship, but never conducted an investigation into potential violations of federal ethics laws before Black recused himself from dealings with the company -- because "there was no indication that Mr. Black had engaged in wrong doing."
"However, the IG under Mr. Devaney had investigated ethics issues and potential conflicts of interest involving Bush Administration officials," the report notes.
Other criticisms include Kendall's personal edits to a department study critical of renewable energy programs, which political appointees also had the opportunity to edit and review.
"Overall, the edits by Acting Inspector General Kendall and the writer/editor softened the critical tone of the draft report and minimized the shortcomings in the Department’s renewable energy programs," the committee report found.
An annual employees survey released last fall at the Interior's IG office found a significant number of staffers believe that the watchdog does not work independently from the administration and even “softens” reports to its liking.
Kendall’s response to employees was that their frustrations were due in part to “extended pay freezes, reduced benefits, downsizing government, drastic budget cuts, and scrutiny from the House Natural Resources Committee.”
“Over 80% of OIG employees completed the survey, and the results suggest that a significant number of employees (approximately 15%) believe OIG does not conduct its work in a manner that is ‘independent’ from the Interior Department,” Vitter, Sessions, and Cornyn wrote to Kevin Perkins, chairman of the Integrity Committee investigating Kendall. “As troubling, the survey results suggest that a significant number of employees (approximately 23%) do not believe communication within the OIG is ‘open and honest.’”
Last month, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee urged Obama to fill inspector general vacancies at Interior as well as the Pentagon, Homeland Security, Labor Department, and State Department.
“The value of the Inspectors General goes beyond dollars; these offices also help reveal and prosecute wrongdoing, and promote the integrity of government. They provide invaluable support to Congressional budgeting and oversight work," said the letter to Obama, led by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). "Inspectors General are an essential component of government oversight.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) recently urged Secretary of State John Kerry to show some pull with Obama and get him to appoint an inspector general.
“As you begin your tenure, we would like to raise an issue essential to the proper functioning of the Department of State… qualified, independent Inspectors General play an indispensible role in maintaining the efficacy of those agencies, by minimizing waste, fraud, and abuse,” Royce and Engel wrote.
The State Department’s vacancy -- more than 1,800 days -- is the longest of the 73 inspector general posts across the federal government.