• ‘Playing Games': Obama Backs ‘Politicized … Trivial’ Nominee For Essential Spot He Left Empty For 6 Years

    A Senate committee chairwoman is torn between leaving the Department of the Interior’s independent watchdog post vacant, or confirm an Obama nominee crippled by recurring allegations of “playing games with Congress.”

    “I strongly believe that Interior needs a permanent [inspector general], and I’m disappointed the administration has let the position go unfilled for six and a half years,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The Alaska Republican is chairwoman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

    “But I am also committed to ensuring that the individual we confirm is fully independent … The tenure that you have been involved with thus far in this position has been marked by controversy.”

    Obama nominated Mary Kendall for the Interior Department’s Inspector General on June 4. She has been both the acting and deputy IG since 2009.

    Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility – a non-profit activist group – said Kendall “politicized” investigations, “focused on trivial matters,” “kept IG operations secret,” and should not be confirmed as a permanent head, The Daily Caller News Foundation reported last week.

    Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso said an IG report critical of the Office of Surface Mining wasn’t publicly released until Dec. 20, 2013 – 10 months after it was completed, and three days after Congress confirmed an Interior appointee to oversee that agency.

    “It looks as though you’re playing games with Congress,” Barrasso said.

    But Kendall said she didn’t “recall the details. It sounds wrong. I would hope that there’s a meaningful explanation.”

    Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy also said the IG was doing favors for the Interior Department, rather than holding it accountable, in instances where it refused to hand reports over to Congress.

    “I have been true to myself, my principles, my best judgment, and the law,” Kendall said. “My personal style, to engage in civil discourse even when addressing difficult issues, has been criticized by some as being too accommodating of the Department of the Interior. Civility, in my experience, however, is not an accommodation, but rather, a strong and effective tool in communicating with and holding DOI accountable.”

    Murkowski said “while we expect that the IG always to approach her work with civility, she must never compromise her independence.”

    “If you are … breaking bread … It seems that you have set yourself up for a conflict of interest,” said Cassidy.

    “Having the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I may have made some of those decisions differently,” Kendall said.

    Kendall also claimed multiple accomplishments, including 195 convictions, $4.5 billion in criminal fines, penalties and restitution, over $119 million in questioned costs and $55 million in funds put to better use. On average over the past five years, the [IG] for DOI ranked fifth for Return-on-Investment among the 72 Federal OIGs.”

    House Committee on Natural Resources Republicans also reported Kendall’s politicization in 2013.

    “Acting Inspector General Kendall and Chief of Staff Stephen Hardgrove have blurred the line between being an independent watchdog and serving as an informal advisor and collaborator on Department policy initiatives,” the report said.

    “The president should not delay any further in acting to nominate someone who can serve as the independent watchdog the department deserves and who does not have the questionable history and judgment Ms. Kendall has brought to the position.”

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