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.

Chart of the Day: Deficits Rising

By The Fiscal Times Staff

Budget deficits normally rise during recessions and fall when the economy is growing, but that’s not the case today. Deficits are rising sharply despite robust economic growth, increasing from $666 billion in 2017 to an estimated $970 billion in 2019, with $1 trillion annual deficits expected for years after that.

As the deficit hawks at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget point out in a blog post Thursday, “the deficit has never been this high when the economy was this strong … And never in modern U.S. history have deficits been so high outside of a war or recession (or their aftermath).” The chart above shows just how unusual the current deficit path is when measured as a percentage of GDP.

4.2 Million Uninsured People Could Get Free Obamacare Plans

FILE PHOTO: A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro
Mike Blake
By Michael Rainey

About 4.2 million uninsured people could sign up for a bronze-level Obamacare health plan and pay nothing for it after tax credits are applied, the Kaiser Family Foundation said Tuesday. That means that 27 percent of the country’s 15.9 million uninsured people could get covered for free. The chart below breaks down the eligible population by state. 

Takedown of the Day: Ezra Klein on Paul Ryan's Legacy of Debt

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill in Washington
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Vox’s Ezra Klein says that retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan’s legacy can be summed up in one number: $343 billion. “That’s the increase between the deficit for fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2018— that is, the difference between the fiscal year before Ryan became speaker of the House and the fiscal year in which he retired.”

Klein writes that Ryan’s choices while in office — especially the 2017 tax cuts and the $1.3 trillion spending bill he helped pass and the expansion of the earned income tax credit he talked up but never acted on — should be what define his legacy:

“[N]ow, as Ryan prepares to leave Congress, it is clear that his critics were correct and a credulous Washington press corps — including me — that took him at his word was wrong. In the trillions of long-term debt he racked up as speaker, in the anti-poverty proposals he promised but never passed, and in the many lies he told to sell unpopular policies, Ryan proved as much a practitioner of post-truth politics as Donald Trump. …

“Ultimately, Ryan put himself forward as a test of a simple, but important, proposition: Is fiscal responsibility something Republicans believe in or something they simply weaponize against Democrats to win back power so they can pass tax cuts and defense spending? Over the past three years, he provided a clear answer. That is his legacy, and it will haunt his successors.”

Read Klein’s full piece here.

Number of the Day: $300 Million

White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks about the budget at the White House in Washington
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, wants the agency to be known as the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, the name under which it was established by Title X of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. Mulvaney even had new signage put up in the lobby of the bureau. But the rebranding could cost the banks and other financial businesses regulated by the bureau more than $300 million, according to an internal agency analysis reported by The Hill’s Sylvan Lane. The costs would arise from having to update internal databases, regulatory filings and disclosure forms with the new name. The rebranding would cost the agency itself between $9 million and $19 million, the analysis estimated. Lane adds that it’s not clear whether Kathy Kraninger, President Trump’s nominee to serve as the bureau’s full-time director, would follow through on Mulvaney’s name change once she is confirmed by the Senate.