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.

Clarifying the Drop in Obamacare Premiums

An insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, California
© Mike Blake / Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

We told you Thursday about the Trump administration’s announcement that average premiums for benchmark Obamacare plans will fall 1.5 percent next year, but analyst Charles Gaba says the story is a bit more complicated. According to Gaba’s calculations, average premiums for all individual health plans will rise next year by 3.1 percent.

The difference between the two figures is produced by two very different datasets. The Trump administration included only the second-lowest-cost Silver plans in 39 states in its analysis, while Gaba examined all individual plans sold in all 50 states.

Number of the Day: $132,900

istockphoto
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The cap on Social Security payroll taxes will rise to $132,900 next year, an increase of 3.5 percent. (Earnings up to that level are subject to the Social Security tax.) The increase will affect about 11.6 million workers, Politico reports. Beneficiaries are also getting a boost, with a 2.8 percent cost-of-living increase coming in 2019.

Photo of the Day: Kanye West at the White House

President Trump speaks during a meeting with rapper Kanye West in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington
KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters
By Yuval Rosenberg

This is 2018: Kanye West visited President Trump at the White House Thursday and made a rambling 10-minute statement that aired on TV news networks. West’s lunch with the president was supposed to focus on clemency, crime in his hometown of Chicago and economic investment in urban areas, but his Oval Office rant veered into the bizarre. And since this is the world we live in, we’ll also point out that West apparently became “the first person to ever publicly say 'mother-f***er' in the Oval Office.”

Trump called Kanye’s monologue “pretty impressive.”

“That was bonkers,” MSNBC’s Ali Velshi said afterward.

Again, this is 2018.

Chart of the Day: GDP Growth Before and After the Tax Bill

Paul Ryan with tax return postcard
By The Fiscal Times Staff

President Trump and the rest of the GOP are celebrating the recent burst in economic growth in the wake of the tax cuts, with the president claiming that it’s unprecedented and defies what the experts were predicting just a year ago. But Rex Nutting of MarketWatch points out that elevated growth rates over a few quarters have been seen plenty of times in recent years, and the extra growth generated by the Republican tax cuts was predicted by most economists, including those at the Congressional Budget Office, whose revised projections are shown below.