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July 17, 2014

Bipartisan Investigation of Commerce IG Raises Troubling Questions About His Current and Past Actions Against Whistleblowers

(Washington, DC) – All Members of the Oversight Subcommittee, including the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Science, Space & Technology, sent a bipartisan letter yesterday to the Commerce Inspector General (IG) Todd Zinser. The letter details Mr. Zinser’s failure to act against his closest aides, Mr. Rick Beitel formerly head of “Whistleblower Protection” and his chief legal counsel, Mr. Wade Green, for their retaliation against whistleblowers in his own office, as detailed by a 2013 investigative report by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the federal office that investigates federal whistleblower cases. “OSC’s investigation uncovered willful, concerted acts of retaliation that necessitate disciplinary action,” the report said. 

The OSC investigation concluded: “Holding management accountable for engaging in prohibited personnel practices is essential to assuring employees that they can blow the whistle or engage in other protected activity without fear of reprisal.” However, the Committee’s investigation has found that part of the reason the IG has failed to act appears to be based on his long-time personal friendship with Mr. Beitel, his former Principal Assistant IG for Investigations and Whistleblower Protection.

The Committee’s investigation has also found that nearly twenty years ago, when Todd Zinser was the Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Investigations (DAIGI) at the Department of Transportation’s OIG, he was the subject of an OSC investigation into his own conduct in retaliating against a whistleblower in his office. The OSC described his actions for firing the whistleblower as “draconian in nature” and “motivated by animus.” The OSC found Mr. Zinser’s actions in the case to be so reprehensible that they called for withholding his salary until the whistleblower was returned to his previous position. Furthermore, based on the information contained in his confirmation hearing before the Senate, Mr. Zinser failed to disclose this case to the Senate during his confirmation hearing to become the Commerce IG in October 2007. 

“The Committee has uncovered conduct by the Commerce Inspector General that is deeply troubling and which points to a pattern of whistleblower abuse and retaliation,” said Ranking Member Johnson.  “How can Congress trust an IG who condones retaliation against whistleblowers by his senior staff and has himself retaliated against whistleblowers in the past?  His failure to disclose his role in the 1996 retaliation case during his Senate confirmation demonstrates that Mr. Zinser understood the implications of his conduct.  Every Member of Congress should find Mr. Zinser’s failure to disclose his actions in that previous whistleblowing case very disturbing,” said Ms. Johnson.

Aside from detailing some of the Committee’s latest findings, the Committee’s letter also requests various documents to assist in its on-going investigation, including records related to the IG’s hiring of Mr. Beitel from the Department of Transportation OIG and the hiring of Ms. Kristine Leiphart, who became the Assistant IG for Administration. The Committee has documented that both Mr. Beitel and Ms. Leiphart were close personal friends of Mr. Zinser before they were hired by him. Inspector General Zinser had been in the press in recent days criticizing another Department of Commerce official for favoritism in hiring decisions.  

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