U.S. Government’s Most Experienced Watchdog Steps Down

May 27, 2020by John M. Donnelly, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
Glenn Fine, acting Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Defense, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing concerning firearm accessory regulation and enforcing federal and state reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System on Capitol Hill, Dec. 6, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Fine stepped down Tuesday, one of five inspectors general to have been recently demoted or dismissed by President Donald Trump. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Glenn Fine, a top official in the Pentagon inspector general’s office, stepped down Tuesday in the latest installment of a recent drama over internal oversight in the Trump administration.

Fine, who is one of five inspectors general to have been recently demoted or dismissed by President Donald Trump, issued a statement underscoring the importance of IGs remaining above the partisan fray.

“The role of Inspectors General is a strength of our system of government,” he said. “They provide independent oversight to help improve government operations in a transparent way. They are a vital component of our system of checks and balances, and I am grateful to have been part of that system.”

Fine resigned from the Pentagon IG’s No. 2 job, the principal deputy IG. But he had been the acting Pentagon IG from 2016 until last month.

As acting Pentagon IG, Fine had been chosen in late March by his fellow federal IGs to chair the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which Congress created to oversee a $2.3 trillion package to help the country respond to the coronavirus outbreak (PL 116-136).

But before Fine could take on that role, Trump moved Fine out of the acting Pentagon IG position, making him ineligible to chair the pandemic oversight committee or, for that matter, oversee Defense Department audits and investigations.

To Trump’s supporters, his recent moves to purge departments of their IGs are consistent with a president’s right to appoint his own personnel. But to critics, the moves smack of retaliation and a diminishing of independent oversight in the IG offices, which are traditionally treated as relatively autonomous from electoral politics.

From the moment Fine was moved back to his previous position as No. 2 at the Pentagon IG, many observers wondered whether he would remain there, given that the president had obviously demoted him.

What’s more, Fine was seen by many as overqualified for the No. 2 position. He had been Justice Department IG for more than a decade, from 2000 to 2011. Having also served as acting Pentagon IG from 2016 until April, he had helmed cabinet-level IGs longer than anyone in history.

Fine was replaced atop the Pentagon IG office on an acting basis by Sean O’Donnell, who is also the EPA IG.

Meanwhile, Trump nominated Jason Abend, who has never been an IG at any level, to take over for O’Donnell. The Senate Armed Services Committee has yet to hold a hearing for Abend.

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