Search for watchdog yielded surprise

By Michael Doyle, Adam Aton | 10/18/2018 01:26 PM EDT

Eleven acting inspectors general currently monitor federal agencies. All possess the kind of on-point experience lacking in the otherwise well-educated attorney who’s reportedly slated to step in as Interior’s acting watchdog.

Interior Department Building in Washington.

Interior Department Building in Washington. Pamela King/E&E News

This story was updated at 2:41 p.m. EDT.

Eleven acting inspectors general currently monitor federal agencies. All possess the kind of on-point experience lacking in the otherwise well-educated attorney who’s reportedly slated to step in as Interior’s acting watchdog.

Nor can the attorney, Suzanne Israel Tufts, match the directly relevant credentials of the three candidates Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke interviewed for the permanent IG job last summer.


From EPA and Department of Energy to the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agencies that now rely on acting IGs uniformly have in place individuals who have come from the close-knit community of inspectors general.

Suzanne Tufts. Photo credit: Department of Housing and Urban Development/Wikipedia
Suzanne Israel Tufts. | Department of Housing and Urban Development/Wikipedia

Some have worked in IG offices for many years, across multiple administrations. Five are, as well, certified public accountants and hence attuned to the financial audits that make up an important part of an IG office’s work.

Three of the acting IGs served in law enforcement or other investigative positions prior to joining a watchdog team.

Tufts is different (Greenwire, Oct. 16).

Tufts has been a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association. Although her biographical information that’s snagged in a Google search no longer appears on the association’s active website, a stored version dated Sept. 4 can still be found.

"She has been active in Republican and Conservative campaigns and causes for over 25 years," the cached website states.

The cached biography adds that Tufts has "worked as a consultant in the areas of not for profit development and management, and strategic planning and finance for growth oriented companies, foundations and exempt organizations."

HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in an email Friday that Tufts — a Trump administration appointee to serve as assistant HUD secretary for administration — was heading over to Interior to serve as acting inspector general (Greenwire, Oct. 17).

She hasn’t shown up at Interior yet, and the IG’s office has not received any further communication about the personnel move reported by Carson.

Today, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and three other Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee wrote to Michael Horowitz, chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, raising concerns about the move.

"It is not clear that the new acting IG is sufficiently qualified or politically independent to take the helm of the Office of Inspector General, particularly at such an important time for the office," the lawmakers wrote.

According to the Inspector General Act, the Senate-confirmed permanent IGs are supposed to be appointed "without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration or investigations."

Interior has the government’s longest IG vacancy: more than 3,500 days, or more than twice as long as the No. 2, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, according to the Project on Government Oversight.

The Trump administration hasn’t nominated anyone as Interior IG, and Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall has been leading the office.

Zinke interviewed candidates last May to replace Kendall, the acting IG since 2009. At least three potential hires met for an hour each with Zinke and two top staffers in the secretary’s office, according to calendars posted by the department.

Two appear to be longtime government employees.

One is Virginia Grebasch, counsel to the Department of Energy IG since 2012. She has worked in other IG departments, and she remained a captain in the Navy Reserve after serving five years’ active duty in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, according to her government biography.

The other is Douglas Hassebrock, director of the Commerce Department’s Office of Export Enforcement and a member of the Senior Executive Service. Hassebrock’s job is to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missile systems, as well as any commerce involving terrorist groups. He retains the rank of colonel as a special investigator in the Air Force Reserve’s Office of Special Investigations, according to his biography.

The third came from private practice. Frank Banda is a managing partner for CohnReznick’s public-sector practice. His biography lists 30 years of experience with federal accounting, including at Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of Historical Trust Accounting. He’s also done audits for the Energy Department and worked with the State Department IG, according to his biography.

None of those candidates got the job.

A summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University in 1977, where she earned a degree in biomedical ethics, Tufts also graduated in 1982 from the University of Virginia Law School, where she won a full-ride tuition scholarship as an elite Dillard Fellow.

Her post-law school career was summed up by the university in August 2014 when she delivered a webinar talk about serving on corporate and nonprofit boards.

"Suzanne has practiced corporate commercial and white collar litigation and in addition, Suzanne has had her own consulting practice focusing on assisting the not-for-profit, philanthropic and emerging business communities with everything from strategic planning to board governance to community outreach," the university recounted.

In her recorded remarks, Tufts explained that she is "fascinated by the topics of governance and governing" and described nonprofit organizations as the "quintessential" American institution.

During the George H.W. Bush administration, Tufts served as a regional director for what is now called the Corporation for National and Community Service, a program the Trump administration has unsuccessfully tried to eliminate. Tufts reported working on "a variety of tenant empowerment, literacy, health care and microenterprise programs" while at the government agency.