Earlier today, The Hill reported that Interior’s Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall would be replaced by Suzanne Israel Tufts, a Trump appointee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The news comes as a historically high number of investigations into Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s conduct remain open.
“This reeks of retaliation for the shocking number of investigations into Secretary Zinke’s unethical conduct,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project. “He should immediately explain the reasons why the current Inspector General is leaving and if he fails to, Congress should demand answers.”
The article quoted a HUD spokesperson was quoted as saying that Tufts’ reassignment was “temporary” and that she would remain a HUD employee, and an IG official who described this temporary change as “very uncommon.” An Interior Inspector General spokesperson said that “news of the change has not been communicated to the office or Kendall.”
Since she was confirmed by the Senate last year as a HUD assistant secretary, Tufts has also taken over the as chief administrative officer at HUD. Tufts reportedly took over the position from a career HUD employee who was demoted after she refused to approve HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s $31,000 dining set, noting that the congressional limit was only $5,000.
Like Secretary Carson, Secretary Zinke also has also decorated his office extravagantly. Earlier this year, Secretary Zinke came under fire for exorbitant redecorating costs after he spent $139,000 on office doors.
The mission of the Inspector General is to “provide independent oversight and promote excellence, integrity, and accountability within the programs, operations, and management of the Department of the Interior.” It is unclear if Tufts has the necessary experience to fulfill that vital mission.