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Commerce Watchdog Left Billions Unaudited, Report Finds

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Resigning weeks before a new report became public detailing his investigative management failures might have been prudent for the former government watchdog accused of promoting his suspected girlfriend and illegally punishing whistleblowers.

Todd Zinser, the former Department of Commerce inspector general who resigned during a heated congressional investigation last month, failed to audit about $2.4 billion worth of Commerce’s budget, and didn’t bother to review two other areas classified as “high risk” for their susceptibility to waste, fraud and abuse, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

Under Zinser’s leadership, the average return-on-investment from savings his staff uncovered was $4.18 million annually, less than one-fifth the average return of $22.64 million compiled by other cabinet-level inspectors general.

Concerns about ethical problems with Zinser’s leadership have been detailed in previous federal investigations, but this new GAO report sheds light on how ineffective he was at ferreting out waste, fraud and abuse, the basic job of all federal IGs.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), who encouraged President Obama in March to remove Zinser, said GAO should have finished a report when she requested one more than two years ago. Now, the ranking member on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology hopes the Commerce IG team can turn things around, and soon.

“As I detailed in public remarks I made in March, Mr. Zinser had been engaged in gross mismanagement of his office and personal misconduct of his position for many years,” Johnson told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“With Mr. Zinser’s departure, I am now hopeful that the Commerce IG’s office has finally rid itself of one of its greatest obstacles to increasing its effectiveness, efficiency and aggressive oversight of the Department of Commerce.  I hope that the new leadership in the Commerce OIG can use the GAO report to help guide them in rebuilding that office and establishing a solid ethical foundation that is critical for its future success.”

GAO said Zinser failed to investigate Commerce’s management of federal property, and protection of technology related to national security, two areas the congressional watchdog has classified as “high risk.” Zinser and his team also didn’t follow established policies for fielding tips and concerns.

Zinser’s troubled tenure working for the federal government dates at least two decades back to 1996, when he was mentioned in a whistleblower complaint to the Office of Special Counsel while working as the deputy inspector general for investigations at the Department of Transportation. Zinser failed to reveal that investigation during his 2007 confirmation process for the Commerce IG post.

His troubles came to a head after another OSC investigation into his conduct in 2012. Among other things, Zinser spent $250,000 taxpayer funds for an outside law office to defend him in a wrongful termination case, and a Department of Commerce human resources office said Zinser might have monitored emails of an employee who filed a complaint against his office to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Federal investigators also said Zinser promoted a woman with whom he was linked romantically, even though Zinser told the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency that the two were just running buddies and she was qualified for the job to which he promoted her.

For now, David Smith, the acting inspector general, has plenty of work ahead of him. Obama hasn’t said when he will appoint Zinser’s permanent successor.

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Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.