Trump orders DOD watchdog sidelined

By Tony Bertuca / April 7, 2020 at 11:24 AM

Glenn Fine will no longer serve as the Defense Department's acting inspector general and will no longer chair the committee charged with overseeing the $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package Congress has passed, Inside Defense has learned.

Fine, who has been acting DOD IG since 2016, will revert to his position as principal deputy inspector general, while Sean O'Donnell, the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general, will serve as the acting DOD IG in addition to his current duties at EPA.

Additionally, Fine will no longer serve as head of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a position he was tapped for March 30.

Meanwhile, President Trump has nominated Jason Abend, who currently serves as senior policy advisor at United States Customs and Border Protection, to be the new DOD IG.

Dwrena Allen, a DOD IG spokeswoman, said Fine would continue to serve as principal deputy inspector general.

"He remains focused and committed to the important mission of the DOD OIG," she said.

O'Donnell, she said, took over as acting IG yesterday.

Abend, meanwhile, previously served as a special agent in both the Federal Housing Finance Agency's Office of Inspector General and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General, according to the White House.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform (D-NY), released a statement blasting Trump for removing Fine from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, tying it to the Friday dismissal of Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community.

"President Trump has been engaged in an assault against independent Inspectors General since last Friday in order to undermine oversight of his chaotic and deficient response to the coronavirus crisis," she said. "Today, Congress learned that the President removed the Chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee -- who was fully supported by Congress and the Inspector General Community. President Trump's actions are a blatant attempt to degrade the independence of Inspectors General who serve as checks against waste, fraud, and abuse."

Trump's decision to dismiss Atkinson was criticized because it was Atkinson who alerted lawmakers to a whistleblower complaint about the president’s dealings with Ukraine. The matter ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment, though he was acquitted.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) told reporters that he thinks Trump wants to surround himself with "sycophants" and pointed to the high number of vacancies among senior posts at DOD.

“Theoretically IGs are supposed to be independent actors, not simply subject to the whims of the president," he said. "The president is not bringing talent to the challenge. He is bringing suck-ups. . . . This president doesn't want any information that he doesn't like."

Smith said he plans to talk to Republicans about the issue to see if he can use the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization bill to insulate inspectors general from being demoted or dismissed without cause.