Evan Vucci / AP

Biden Moves to Fill More Inspector General Vacancies, Announcing 3 Nominees 

One of the watchdog positions has been without permanent leadership since June 2014. 

President Biden announced on Wednesday evening his intent to nominate three individuals to be inspectors general, a class of positions that have had persistent delays in nominations. 

There are currently 15 IG positions without permanent leadership, 12 of which require a presidential nomination. So far Biden has nominated individuals to be the IGs for the Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments; Intelligence Community; CIA; U.S. Agency for International Development; and Office of Personnel Management. The CIA IG was confirmed on June 24 and Intelligence Community IG on September 30. Government Executive previously reported in March and then June about experts’ calls for IG nominations to be more of a priority under the Biden administration.

The Export-Important Bank IG is the watchdog position that has been without permanent leadership for the longest: it became vacant on June 27, 2014, which was 2,659 days ago as of Thursday

Biden will formally nominate Parisa Salehi to hold this position. She is currently the chief of staff at the State Department IG office, in which she “provides executive leadership by leading a global workforce whose mission is to detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct and to promote economy, efficiency and effectiveness in [the] U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for Global Media programs and operations,” said the White House in a statement. Before that, she worked in the U.S. Agency for International Development IG office, as well as served as acting IG for the Export-Import Bank.

Brian Tomney, head of the Office of Corporate Investigations at Capital One, will be the nominee for Federal Housing Finance Agency IG. The agency’s previous IG, Laura Wertheimer, was the subject of scrutiny and criticism by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis. She was accused of abusing her authority and misconduct toward employees, including intimidation. Her lawyer, however, argued she was a “superlative IG.” Wertheimer resigned in July––not citing any of the issues raised–– and the Agriculture Department IG took over as acting watchdog for the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Lastly, Biden will tap Ben Wagner to be the nominee for Tennessee Valley Authority IG. 

“Wagner’s professional career with the Tennessee Valley Authority spanned 38 years of dedicated service,” said the White House. “The majority of his career included 31 years of service to the Office of the Inspector General at TVA. Prior to his retirement in 2017, he served in several senior executive positions in the TVA OIG, including the role of senior advisor, stakeholder relations and deputy inspector general.” He also “held several leadership positions in the audits, evaluations and administrative functions with the TVA OIG and was integral to the start-up of the office after it was established at TVA in 1985.” 

Many chided the Trump administration for its attacks on watchdogs and refusals to cooperate with oversight investigations. While some of the actions were deemed unprecedented, this was not the first administration to have an aversion to IGs. 

Twenty-one organizations that noted they represent a “diverse range of ideological viewpoints” sent a letter Tuesday to the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in support of three bills the panel is in the process of considering, which would increase IG empowerment and independence. 

“In fiscal year 2020 alone, inspectors general across the federal government identified potential savings of approximately $53 billion, representing a $17 return on every $1 of taxpayer money that Congress invested in those offices,” they wrote. “But these watchdogs have alerted Congress to consequential weaknesses in the laws that undermine their ability to do this important work to the standard the American public deserves...Reforming the inspectors general system is a critical step toward fighting corruption and increasing public trust in our government.”