Trump administration replaces independent oversight of Zinke investigations with Trump appointee

Suzanne Israel Tufts has no relevant experience for the role.

Ryan Zinke talks to reporters outside the White House West Wing on August 16, 2018. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Ryan Zinke talks to reporters outside the White House West Wing on August 16, 2018. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The number of federal investigations into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reached double-digits earlier this year. Though members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet like Scott Pruitt, Tom Price, and David Shulkin have lost their jobs over ethics concerns, Zinke’s flag continues to fly over the Department of the Interior.

Now the Trump administration has reportedly taken the unusual step of moving a political appointee into the watchdog role that oversees Zinke’s investigations.

Suzanne Israel Tufts, who joined Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in December, will become the acting inspector general of the Interior Department despite lacking relevant experience for the role, according to the Washington Post.

Tufts — who does not have a background in government investigations or environmental policy and regulations — will be overseeing one of the government’s most active watchdog offices. The Interior Department’s inspector general is charged with auditing and investigating potential waste, fraud and abuse at 10 agencies, including the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Post reports the move, which was first announced by HUD Secretary Ben Carson in an email on Friday, took Interior employees by surprise.

Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall, who had led the office for nine years and served as its deputy since 1999, learned of Tufts’s appointment from a colleague who showed her Carson’s email, according to a person with knowledge of the exchange.

A pair of former Justice Department staffers slammed the decision following the Post’s report on Tuesday. “Changing IGs in the midst of multiple serious investigations of the agency’s head should raise alarm bells everywhere,” warned Michael Bromwich on Twitter. Matthew Miller called Tufts’ appointment “a brazen and clumsy attempt to get control of an independent IG office.”


Most government agencies and cabinet-level departments have inspectors general offices, which provide independent oversight. The majority of inspectors general positions, including the one at the Interior Department, require Senate confirmation. However, since a deputy had been serving in the acting role, an Interior spokesperson told The Hill’s Miranda Green that Tufts’ appointment to oversee Zinke’s investigations will not require Senate approval.

The probes of Zinke cover his involvement in a Montana land deal tied to Halliburton, allegations that he removed mentions of climate change from government reports, a $139,000 door, and improper usage of government vehicles.

The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) notes the 14 federal investigations into Zinke are two shy of the number Pruitt triggered before leaving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this year.