Elections

Published — April 23, 2019

Third time’s a charm? Federal Election Commission will try — again — to find an internal watchdog

Agency last employed an inspector general in early 2017

Introduction

The Federal Election Commission’s tortured search for a new internal watchdog has hit another in a series of obstacles.

Without explanation, the FEC last week for the third time posted a new hiring announcement for its agency inspector general position — vacant more than two years. The inspector general’s office itself has been largely nonfunctional since November, when the lone deputy inspector general resigned.

This means weeks, if not months more will likely pass before the agency hires an inspector general, whose office investigates waste, fraud and abuse at the FEC, including accusations against commissioners.

FEC commissioners earlier this month said they expected to fill the post “soon.” FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, and Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen, a Republican, did not respond to inquiries about why they’ve now posted the inspector general job again — essentially bringing them back to square one — or whether they’ll appoint an “acting” inspector general until a permanent one is found.

Update, 11:41 a.m., May 22: The FEC has appointed Tony Baptiste of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s inspector general office to temporarily serve as the FEC’s acting inspector general. Baptiste is scheduled to begin work May 28.

Update, 8:31 a.m. April 23: The FEC has published a notice on the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency’s website seeking an acting inspector general for a “120-day detail beginning May 13, 2019.” The detail could be extended an “additional 90 to 120 days upon mutual agreement … until the recruitment and appointment of a new, permanent Inspector General is completed.” The notice also states that the acting inspector general, who must be a current federal employee, would have the “same authorities as a permanent IG.”  

A series of delays and mishaps have plagued the inspector general search at the bipartisan FEC.

Long-time Inspector General Lynne McFarland retired in March 2017, several months after an incident in which she released hundreds of confidential — and many critical — FEC employee comments to agency management, infuriating many rank-and-file staffers.

It took the FEC more than a year to advertise for an inspector general after McFarland’s departure.

In May 2018, internal agency disagreements led to an FEC human resources official canceling the inspector job posting without her bosses’ authorization, then resigning, forcing the FEC to begin the hiring process anew.

A second attempt to hire an inspector general was delayed when the federal government shut down during December and January. By February, the FEC appeared close to a hire, but that, too, fell through.

Federal Election Commission Deputy Inspector General J. Cameron Thurber resigned in November 2018. Since then, his former office has effectively gone dormant, unable to carry out its watchdog functions because FEC commissioners have not replaced him or the retired inspector general. (Photo credit: Eddie Arrossi)

Meanwhile, the FEC’s small inspector general office has been unable to conduct formal investigations and audits — and has not been able to issue reports or findings — since Deputy Inspector General J. Cameron Thurber resigned in November.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Committee on House Administration, this month sent FEC commissioners a letter, with 46 questions, inquiring about the agency’s operations, including the inspector general and general counsel offices.

Lofgren, who says she plans to this year conduct the first U.S. House oversight hearing on the FEC since 2011, gave the FEC until May 1 to respond.

The FEC is responsible for enforcing and regulating national campaign finance laws, but has long been hamstrung by ideological divisions, low staff morale and other long-standing vacancies, including two of six FEC commissioner slots.


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