Biden faces dilemma on what to do with watchdogs appointed by Trump.

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Biden faces dilemma on what to do with watchdogs appointed by Trump.


The Biden administration has moved aggressively to undo former President Donald J. Trump’s policies and dislodge his loyalists from positions on boards and civil-service jobs, but it has hesitated on a related choice: whether to remove two inspectors general appointed by Mr. Trump under a storm of partisan controversy.

At issue is whether the new administration will keep Eric Soskin, who was confirmed as the Transportation Department’s inspector general in December, and Brian D. Miller, a former Trump White House lawyer who was named earlier in 2020 to hunt for abuses in pandemic spending.

Both were confirmed over intense Democratic opposition after Mr. Trump fired or demoted a number of inspectors general last year, saying he had been treated “very unfairly” by them.

By ousting or sidelining inspectors general who were seen as investigating his administration aggressively, Mr. Trump undercut a longstanding tradition that presidents refrain from firing inspectors general without cause.

Mr. Trump also named inspectors general who were overwhelmingly opposed by Democrats — breaking with another tradition that nearly all inspectors general since Congress created the independent anti-corruption watchdog positions in 1978 were confirmed unanimously or by voice vote without recorded opposition.

The Biden team wants to repair what it sees as damage to the government wrought by Mr. Trump through his many violations of norms. It also wants to restore and reinforce those norms, according to people briefed on its internal deliberations about inspectors general dating back to the campaign and transition.

“It’s very possible — and it would be a real mistake — for the Biden people to remove those I.G.’s because they were appointed by Trump,” said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group.

Ms. Brian was one of the few outside observers to call attention to a little-noticed push by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, then the majority leader, to get Mr. Soskin confirmed as the Transportation Department inspector general. The 48-to-47 vote to confirm Mr. Soskin made him the first such official to take office on a purely party-line clash.

The office Mr. Soskin now controls has been investigating whether Mr. Trump’s Transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, improperly steered grants to Kentucky as her husband, Mr. McConnell, was seeking re-election there. During the lame-duck session, Mr. McConnell used his power to prioritize getting Mr. Soskin confirmed over four other inspector general nominees who had been waiting for floor votes longer, raising the question of why he was trying to ensure that a Republican appointee would control that post even after Mr. Biden took office.

Earlier in the year, only one Democrat voted to confirm Mr. Miller, who had worked in the Trump White House. Others rejected him on the grounds that he was seen as too close to the Trump administration to aggressively hunt for waste or fraud in pandemic spending during an election year.

The Biden team appears not to have reached any decision about what, if anything, to do about Mr. Soskin and Mr. Miller.





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