Interior Inspector General Needs New Leader
Politicized, Misguided, and Shrouded Probes Should Disqualify Kendall
Washington, DC — The long-time Deputy Inspector General for the Department of Interior should not be confirmed for the top job, according to a letter of opposition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Citing a variety of concerns and mishandled cases, the group contends that Mary Kendall “lacks the vision, integrity, and leadership skills to be an effective IG.”
The Interior IG slot has been vacant since 2009, but for the past six years Ms. Kendall has been acting as the functional head of the office, serving as both the Acting IG and as Deputy IG. This year, President Obama finally nominated her to fill that vacancy. That nomination is slated to be heard on October 20th before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.
Based on her track record, PEER maintains that Kendall has:
- politicized IG investigations, pulling punches in trying to avoid upsetting political appointees;
- focused on trivial matters, conducting misguided witch hunts while refusing to look at long-term systemic problems plaguing Interior; and
- kept IG operations secret, publishing only a tiny percentage of completed investigations and resisting Freedom of Information Act requests for files on closed cases.
“Instead of being objective and nonpartisan, we have found Ms. Kendall’s office to be governed by a political calculus,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing, for example, to cases where complaints about top officials, even as high as agency director, are referred by the IG back to the agency to investigate itself. “In an acting position, she would forfeit her prospects for nomination by angering the White House, but she is now so compromised she is unlikely to find her independence once confirmed.”
One case the PEER letter highlights is the IG’s now infamous three-year probe of two federal scientists over a peer-reviewed journal article they wrote after observing drowned polar bears in an aerial survey following a storm. Their paper galvanized public understanding of climate change effects in the Arctic. For reasons never disclosed, the IG launched a major investigation into the article published years prior, searching thousands of emails and conducting interviews across the country. During its course, the IG repeatedly sought to have criminal charges filed against the scientists (all the referrals were immediately rebuffed) and ultimately produced findings rejected by the Interior agency as without foundation.
“This polar bear case revealed an IG office acting without adult supervision,” added Ruch, noting that Kendall even insisted that her office is exempt from Interior’s Scientific Integrity Policy, which by its terms covers all departmental employees, contractors, and volunteers. “Under Ms. Kendall, the IG suffers from an organizational myopia that makes it part of Interior’s problems, rather than a force for solutions.”
Republican lawmakers in both Houses of Congress have also voiced concerns similar to those raised by PEER. However, if Ms. Kendall is not confirmed, she will likely continue to run the IG office for the rest of the Obama presidency as she has from nearly its inception.