Mary Kendall has a tough road ahead before she can be the Department of the Interior’s permanent watchdog.
President Obama announced last week that he intended to nominate Kendall for the department’s inspector general job, a post the deputy IG has held in an acting capacity since 2009 (E&E Daily, June 5). Yet her tenure in the position has angered several Republican lawmakers — enough so that a trio of GOP senators sparked an investigation of Kendall by her fellow inspectors general.
In a May 2012 letter, Sens. David Vitter (R-La.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) called for an investigation into Kendall by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (E&ENews PM, May 24, 2012).
The senators asked the council’s Integrity Committee — which investigates IGs for misconduct — whether Kendall helped draft a report that misrepresented scientists’ views regarding the Obama administration’s drilling moratorium after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. They also alleged that Kendall stymied a subsequent IG investigation run by her office into whether the drafting of the scientists’ report came under undue political influence from top officials at Interior and the White House.
The Integrity Committee comprises fellow IGs and is led by an official picked by the FBI, typically someone from that law enforcement bureau. The three senators’ letter triggered a probe into Kendall, according to an FBI spokesman.
"That investigation was opened based on the May 2012 letter from the three senators," said a spokesman for the bureau.
The investigation into Kendall lasted roughly six months, according to CIGIE records. Despite the senators’ pleadings, the committee would not find evidence to back up their charges against Kendall.
In the Integrity Committee’s 2013 annual report, it was noted that in November 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general "investigated allegations of administrative misconduct" against Kendall, including whether she helped draft the scientists’ report and whether she conducted a fair investigation into the matter. The committee would not be able to prove those charges.
"The HHS OIG completed its investigation and did not substantiate the allegations," said the committee’s annual report.
The Integrity Committee received the HHS watchdog’s findings in June 2013. It passed on the report’s findings to congressional committees that have oversight over CIGIE as well as Interior in October that year.
Documents obtained under FOIA, including emails and a letter from Kendall, show that the Interior deputy IG and her staff were in touch with the Integrity Committee regarding the investigation over the summer of that year, too.
Kendall’s July 30, 2013, letter to CIGIE indicates she sent an "initial response" to the committee, which Greenwire has filed a FOIA request for but has not received yet. An Interior IG spokesman, however, said much of that response is already public.
"The written statement provided by Mary Kendall for the Aug. 2, 2012, hearing is virtually verbatim to the response she provided to the Integrity Committee," said the IG spokesman.
The spokesman was referring to a House Natural Resources Committee hearing that also looked into allegations that the scientists’ report behind the drilling moratorium was doctored by the Obama administration.
Kendall has defended her impartiality throughout the ordeal, saying that although she attended information-collecting sessions for the scientists’ report regarding the drilling moratorium, she did not help draft the document (Greenwire, May 23, 2012).
Yet despite the findings of her fellow inspectors general, Kendall has been hounded by GOP lawmakers during her tenure as acting IG. Her temporary status as Interior’s acting IG has often led lawmakers to question whether she can be truly independent of the Obama administration.
In February 2013, Republican staff for the House Natural Resources Committee came to different conclusions regarding Kendall than CIGIE would later on that year. They released a report that found she had taken an "accommodating and cooperative approach" with the department’s leadership (E&ENews PM, Feb. 21, 2013).
‘See what happens’
Today, Republicans are mulling over Kendall’s history as they consider the president’s choice to pick her for the permanent IG spot. Sessions said he would have to look into Kendall’s nomination before weighing in further.
"We do need to ensure that anyone appointed to an inspector general has the highest respect and integrity," Sessions said.
House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said he was skeptical when the White House went with Kendall.
"Personally, I think he could have done better, but maybe she will surprise me," Bishop said. "Yeah, I have skepticisms."
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the panel’s ranking member, defended Kendall’s record that her nomination will "stew for a while."
"I think she is going to get the attrition, war on her, as most have," Grijalva said. "Her liability is she has been doing her job and she has been doing her job in very public, tough, crisis areas. … When you’re effective in front of some of these guys, it’s reason enough to not be given the job."
Kendall’s record will be pored over yet again as she strives for Senate confirmation. Already, Vitter has called on the president to withdraw her nomination and submit a new pick for Interior’s inspector general job (see related story).
Bishop emphasized that a permanent IG at Interior was better than a temporary one, and he seemed willing to give Kendall a chance at the job. If Kendall is confirmed and then she falters, she can expect to hear from Bishop’s committee.
"Give her a shot. See what happens," Bishop said. "If I don’t like it, we will probably complain later. I have learned to do that well."