Secretary Zinke: Email about Acting Inspector General being replaced based on 'false information'

Photo of Secretary Ryan Zinke courtesy of Scott Wilson. |

By Dan Bacher | October 19, 2018 | 


It has been a really bizarre week at the Department of Interior under Secretary Ryan Zinke.

After media reports earlier this week that the Interior Department’s Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall would be replaced with Suzanne Tufts, a political appointee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Interior Department on October 18 issued a statement that the reported replacement was “false information.”

In fact, Kendall will be staying in her job and there never had been any decision to replace Kendall with Tufts, according to the Office of Interior Secretary Zinke.  

“HUD sent out an email that had false information in it,” said Heather Swift, a senior adviser to Zinke, in a statement. “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.”

CNN had reported that “Mary Kendall, who has led the office for nearly a decade and is overseeing at least four probes involving Secretary Ryan Zinke, may be replaced by an assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Suzanne Israel Tufts.”

in an internal email to department employees on Friday, HUD Secretary Ben Carson bid Tufts "a fond farewell.” 

Tufts "has decided to leave HUD to become the Acting Inspector General at the Department of Interior," he wrote in the email obtained by CNN.

"I am extremely grateful to Suzanne for her service at HUD and am confident that she will thrive in her new role," Carson wrote, according to CNN.

Chris Saeger, Executive Director of Western Values Project, responded to the latest news in a statement, calling the mix-up “truly bizarre.”

"It's truly bizarre that it took Secretary Zinke's office more than a day to correct a story that they now claim is false. Either Secretary Zinke's office is not being truthful or they're just not competent enough to perform basic functions. Regardless, the Office of Inspector General is vital to a well-functioning Interior Department. After this embarrassing incident, we demand that Secretary Zinke commit supporting a professional, independent IG who can act with integrity."

Kendall is notable for pursuing aggressive investigations and audits of mismanagement and corruption by federal, state and local agencies.

In 2016, Kendall found that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) wasted $32.2 million intended for fish and wildlife and drought relief in the Klamath Basin on subsidies for irrigators: www.counterpunch.org/…

That scandal took place as the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley Tribes, recreational anglers, commercial fishing families and river and coastal communities were suffering from the big cultural and economic loss caused by low numbers of returning salmon on the Klamath River in 2016, the result of decades of mismanagement by the state and federal governments.

Then on September 7, 2017, a federal audit report signed by Kendall determined that the U.S. Department of Interior improperly used $84 million in federal taxpayer’s money in the planning process for Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels project.

Kendall, then deputy federal inspector general for Interior, issued a 42 page report detailing the misuse of the money and the recommendations made to the state and federal agencies to resolve the issue. The full report is available here; drive.google.com/… 

In other Interior Department News, Friends of the Earth yesterday protested Secretary Ryan Zinke’s service to the oil and gas industry, holding him accountable during a speech at an industry association event in Washington, D.C. 

In previous speeches, Zinke has pledged to work for Big Oil and Big Gas. In September, he told the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association: “Our government should work for you, the #oilandgas industry.”

In a speech to oil and gas executives in March, Zinke claimed that the carbon footprint of wind is “significant,” only to turn around in April and tell an audience at an offshore wind conference that wind energy fits into America’s “energy dominance” framework, according to Friends of the Earth.

Following the action, Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels program manager at Friends of the Earth, issued a statement decribing Zinke as “a one-man environmental disaster whose corruption has triggered over 14 federal investigations into his behavior.”

“Americans need an Interior Secretary who will put our communities ahead of the pocketbooks of oil and mining executives. Zinke brags behind closed doors about his department working for the oil and gas industry while blaming the wind industry for global warming. The only solution to the corruption and two-faced lying at the Department of Interior is to fire Zinke,” concluded Ghio. 

If one had any doubts where Zinke stands on expanded oil and gas drilling, Zinke proclaimed in a post on Facebook on October 17,  “The United States just surpassed Russia as the largest producer of oil and gas on the planet. We are producing about 11 million barrels a day and on track to hit 14 million barrels a day by the end of next year. Much of that is produced on federal lands and waters thanks to the Bureau of Land Managementand Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. That's big news for states like New Mexico who has a nearly two billion dollar budget surplus thanks to the energy boom in the Permian Basin.”







 






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