Trump's nominee for DOD inspector general grilled for 'obvious lack of experience'

By Tony Bertuca / August 6, 2020 at 12:50 PM

Senate Democrats today pressed Jason Abend, President Trump's nominee to be the Defense Department's inspector general, because he has never served as an IG before.

Abend currently serves as senior policy adviser at Customs and Border Protection. He has previously worked 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.

During Abend's confirmation hearing today, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, noted Abend's previous experience as a government investigator, but questioned whether he would be able to lead a DOD agency of 1,600 investigators.

"You have extensive experience as an investigator, but you have never really had experience as an inspector general, as part of a very specific and sophisticated operation," Reed said.

The senator also pointed out that Abend is the only recent inspector general nominee for whom the White House has not sought a recommendation from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, which Reed said is an "important detriment" to Abend's nomination.

If confirmed, Abend will succeed Glenn Fine, who previously served as acting DOD inspector general since 2016 before resigning in May. Fine left his Pentagon post after Trump ordered him to revert to a subordinate position, thus removing him from leading the body tasked with overseeing trillions in COVID-19 aid.

Prior to joining DOD, Fine served as the Justice Department's inspector general for 11 years. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), meanwhile, commented today on Abend's "obvious lack of experience" and questioned whether he would be able to fully investigate the Trump administration if called to do so.

"I'm concerned the president has picked you for this job precisely because he believes that you will not stand up to him," she said.

Abend pledged to remain independent if confirmed.

"Nobody has preference in my book," he said.

But Abend said he wants to guard against the inspector general community developing "a sense of sovereignty."

"I want to ensure that there's also oversight of that as well," he said.

Meanwhile, five inspectors general have left the Trump administration this year alone, most recently Stephen Akard, who resigned from his job as acting State Department IG this week. Akard's resignation comes as Congress is looking into the firing of his predecessor, Steve Linick, who had been investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Sen. Angus King (I-ME), referring to Trump's recent firing or removal of several IGs, said "the job life expectancy of an inspector general is about the same of a squirrel trying to cross Pennsylvania Avenue."

King told Abend he is "likely" to be confirmed and asked him to remember that his oath will be to protect the Constitution, not "any particular president or member of Congress or secretary of defense."

Abend told King he would abide by the oath, saying he is a "zealous advocate for truth" and has been his entire career.

"I take you at your word," King said. "I think you may be tested, and I hope that you will remember your testimony here today when that happens."