Commerce IG Accused of Whistleblower Retaliation Suddenly Quits

Commerce IG Accused of Whistleblower Retaliation Suddenly Quits

Flickr/sciencedemocrats
By Brianna Ehley, The Fiscal Times

Embattled Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser, who has been accused of misconduct and retaliation against whistleblowers, just announced that he is stepping down after seven years at the agency. 

In an internal email to his staff, Zinser said he would be leaving his watchdog post to “pursue opportunities outside of government service,” GovExec first reported.

Zinser, the top watchdog in charge of keeping tabs on the Commerce Department, has been under intense scrutiny for nearly a year amid allegations of whistleblower retaliation and improperly hiring a woman with whom he was said to be romantically involved.

Related: Corruption in Commerce Dept? Lawmakers Want Him Out

For months, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and two independent watchdog groups, have been calling on President Obama to fire Zinser over the alleged misconduct, which has been the subject of at least one federal probe by the White House Office of Special Council.

The White House has not responded to comment on whether Zinser was asked to leave.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have been probing into multiple allegations brought by whistleblowers against Zinser for the better part of a year.

“The Committee has uncovered evidence questioning whether the Commerce IG’s office is functioning with integrity. We must determine if these allegations are true and if so, they are the result of systemic issues that may require legislative action,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter published last year.

Related: Why This Government Watchdog Needs Watching 

In one instance, the IG reportedly failed to discipline two employees in his office who intimidated potential whistleblowers.

Another whistleblower told the committee that the IG improperly hired his “girlfriend” for a senior role in the office, which had an annual salary of $150,000 plus bonuses. Zinser maintained that he and the woman were not romantically involved and defended her employment. 

He told the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) that she was hired solely “on business necessity.”

There is currently a Government Accountability Office investigation into Zinser’s office conduct that is expected to be published in the coming months. 

Zinser previously served as the Transportation Department’s acting inspector general and deputy inspector general.

The Trump Budget's $1.2 Trillion in 'Phantom Revenues'

Trump budget arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington
KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

President Trump’s 2020 budget includes up to $1.2 trillion in “potentially phantom revenues” — money that comes from taxes the administration opposes or from tax hikes that face strong opposition from businesses, The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin reports, citing data from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. That total, covering 2020 through 2029, includes as much as $390 billion in taxes created under the Affordable Care Act, which the president wants to repeal.

The $1.2 trillion in questionable revenue projections is in addition to the White House budget’s projected deficits of $7.3 trillion for the 10-year period. That total is itself questionable, given that the president’s budget relies on optimistic assumptions about economic growth and some unrealistic spending cuts, meaning that the deficits could be significantly higher than projected.

Chart of the Day: Trump's Huge Proposed Cuts to Public Investment

Trump budget arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington
KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Ben Ritz of the Progressive Policy Institute slams President Trump’s new budget:

“It would dismantle public investments that lay the foundation for economic growth, resulting in less innovation. It would shred the social safety net, resulting in more poverty. It would rip away access to affordable health care, resulting in more disease. It would cut taxes for the rich, resulting in more income inequality. It would bloat the defense budget, resulting in more wasteful spending. And all this would add up to a higher national debt than the policies in President Obama’s final budget proposal.”

Here’s Ritz’s breakdown of Trump’s proposed spending cuts to public investment in areas such as infrastructure, education and scientific research:

Chart of the Day: The Decline in Corporate Taxes

By The Fiscal Times Staff

Since roughly the end of World War Two, individual income taxes in the U.S. have equaled about 8 percent of GDP. By contrast, the Tax Policy Center says, “corporate income tax revenues declined from 6% of GDP in 1950s to under 2% in the 1980s through the Great Recession, and have averaged 1.4% of GDP since then.”

Tax Refunds Rebound

Flickr / Chris Potter
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Smaller refunds in the first few weeks of the current tax season were shaping up to be a political problem for Republicans, but new data from the IRS shows that the value of refund checks has snapped back and is now running 1.3 percent higher than last year. The average refund through February 23 last year was $3,103, while the average refund through February 22 of 2019 was $3,143 – a difference of $40. The chart below from J.P. Morgan shows how refunds performed over the last 3 years.