Three House leaders reject removal of acting DOT inspector general

Published: May 19, 2020

U.S. Reps Carolyn B. Maloney, chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Peter A. DeFazio, chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Gerald E. Connolly, chair of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao opposing President Donald Trump’s removal of former Acting Inspector General Mitch Behm and demanding he be reinstated immediately.

“We oppose President Trump’s removal of long-time public servant Mitch Behm from his position as Acting Inspector General of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and urge that he be immediately reinstated,” the Chairs wrote to Chao. “Mr. Behm’s removal is the latest in a series of politically motivated firings of Inspectors General by President Trump. This assault on the integrity and independence of Inspectors General appears to be an intentional campaign to undermine their ability to expose corruption and protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse.”

Eliott

On May 15, 2020, President Trump designated Howard R. Elliott, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), to replace Mr. Behm while Mr. Elliott keeps his political post at PHMSA at the same time. Mr. Elliott appears to have no investigatory or law enforcement experience. He is a former executive for CSX Transportation. In contrast, Mr. Behm has served in the office since 2003 and has received numerous awards for his contributions to audits and reviews.

Maloney, DeFazio, and Connolly also sent a letter to Mr. Elliott raising concerns about the conflicts of interest created by his simultaneous roles as PHMSA administrator and acting inspector general.

“This inherent conflict of interest would prohibit you from having the independence necessary to conduct fair and rigorous oversight of the Department and the Secretary,” the chairs wrote to Elliott. “Your dual appointment could severely chill whistleblower disclosures to the Office of Inspector General because whistleblowers might fear that their identities could become known to an official still serving in the Department. It also may chill communication within the Office of Inspector General if auditors or investigators are concerned that you will share information with Secretary Chao before it is appropriate.”

In their letters, the chairs requested information regarding ongoing audits, inspections, investigations, evaluations, reviews, or other engagements, as well as any communications regarding the removal of Mr. Behm and Mr. Elliott’s qualifications for Inspector General by June 1, 2020.