Interior Department Says Inspector General Can Keep Her Job After All

(Bloomberg) -- The Interior Department’s longtime acting inspector general, whose aggressive investigations have been a thorn in the side of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, will keep her job.

Mary Kendall, the Interior Department’s deputy inspector general, has overseen a record number of investigations of Zinke, including one that concluded the secretary could have avoided spending $12,375 on a charter flight to a hockey team owned by a former campaign contributor.

Ben Carson, Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, told staff in an Oct. 12 email that Suzanne Israel Tufts, a political appointee who serves as assistant secretary of HUD’s Office of Administration, would be leaving the agency to become the acting inspector general at the Interior Department.

The move drew condemnation from Democrats, who termed it retribution against Kendall, who’s served in that capacity for several years.

But Heather Swift, a senior adviser to Zinke, said in a statement Thursday that Kendall remains in her post and there’d never been a decision to move Tufts into the job.

No Job Offer

“HUD sent out an email that had false information in it,” Swift said. “Ms. Tufts was referred to the Department by the White House as a potential candidate for a position in the Inspector General’s office. At the end of the day, she was not offered a job at Interior.”

A HUD spokesman didn’t return a request for comment.

Earlier on Thursday, Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota, top Democrat on the subcommittee that oversees the Interior Department’s funding, complained about the reported move in a letter to Zinke.

“There is no precedent for putting a political appointee in the position of Acting Inspector General,” McCollum said. “This appointment has every appearance of a blatant attempt to stifle the Office of the Inspector General’s investigations that could determine actions you have taken as Secretary are unethical.”

McCollum also questioned Tufts’ lack of experience in government oversight. A HUD profile describes Tufts as an expert in “social programming in inner cities, including micro-enterprises, education and women’s issues. A lawyer, she holds an undergraduate degree in bio-medical ethics and was previously head of the American Woman’s Economic Development Corporation.

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