Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has told his staff that Suzanne Israel Tufts, a political appointee at HUD, has been named acting inspector general of the Interior Department. The role of internal watchdog at federal agencies is traditionally nonpartisan, and the Interior Department's inspector general's office has several investigations ongoing into conduct by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, making the installation of a political appointee all the more unusual, The Washington Post reports.
That's not the only strange thing about Tufts' apparent appointment. The Interior Department's Office of Inspector General said it "has received no official communication about any leadership changes," and an Interior Department spokeswoman, Faith Vander Voort, referred questions to the White House, noting that the inspector general "is a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed position, which would be announced by the White House." The White House has not announced Tufts' nomination and did not respond to the Post's request for comment. A HUD spokesman said Tufts was on temporary loan to Interior, but Carson described her departure as permanent.
Tufts is a lawyer from Queens with no experience in government oversight; when she was hired at HUD, she replaced a career official who had objected to Carson's costly office makeover, the Post reports. The current acting Interior inspector general, Mary Kendall, is a longtime government lawyer who has served as deputy inspector general since 1999. She took over as acting inspector general in 2009; President Barack Obama nominated her to serve as inspector general but the Senate never voted on it.
Kendall's investigations of Zinke include a Montana land-investment deal involving the chairman of Halliburton and a foundation tied to Zinke and his wife, Lola; Lola Zinke's government travel with her husband; a casino project blocked after Zinke met with MGM Resorts International lobbyists; and whether the shrunken boundaries for Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were drawn to benefit a Utah Republican state lawmaker. Peter Weber