The House Inspector General who oversaw years of investigations into staffer embezzlement and misconduct within the House Page program is retiring next year to pursue religious endeavors.

Jim Cornell became the head of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in 2005 after his predecessor retired. Perhaps most notoriously Cornell, whose job also included conducting audits of the House, led an investigation into a former staffer of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (R-Calif.) on charges that the aide embezzled money from the office.

Cornell also conducted a study of the House Page program at the behest of House leadership after several teen pages were found partaking in inappropriate sexual and criminal activity. He subsequently released a report, that was characteristically not made public, recommended several additional oversight measures House officials could take towards maintaining the program.
Cornell, who often remained behind the scenes, said he will miss working with members of the House and his staff as he moves on.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here at the House,” he said in an e-mail. “I have received great latitude in developing my work plan and tremendous support from House leadership, the [Committee on House Administration] and the House Officers in ensuring the implementation of my staff’s recommendations. The House OIG staff is by far the most talented I have worked with, and they are well positioned for the future.”

Cornell said he was leaving to pursue his religious passion in New Jersey.

“I will be volunteering my energy and time to helping a pastor establish a Christian school in New Jersey,” he said. “Serving the Lord has increasing become my life’s passion and after much prayer and thought, I feel called to pursue this exciting new challenge.”

Cornell’s replacement will be appointed by the House Speaker, majority leader and minority leader after a selection committee sends the group its choice. The office was established by the 103rd Congress and the first inspector general was appointed in November 1993.

Cornell received praise for his partisan fairness and due diligence from both sides of the aisle on Thursday.

Rep. Robert Brady, chairman of the House Administration Committee, which oversees the functioning of the House, said he was said to see Cornell leave and that he would use his service as a template for choosing a successor.

“Jim is a perfect example of the exceptional public servants who work in the background, absent the fanfare, but without whom this great institution could not function,” Brady said in a statement. “Jim’s example will serve as an important model as my Committee begins the daunting search for someone to fill his considerable shoes.”

Brady’s counterpart, ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) said he much of the House’s continued successful functioning to Cornell.

“During his tenure with the House Office of Inspector General, Jim has demonstrated an immense dedication to preserving the integrity of this Chamber,” he said in a statement. “His hard work and tenacity for thorough analyses have been vital to ensuring the success of the House’s administrative and financial operations.”

And House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) commended Cornell for his work.

“Jim Cornell has made a lasting contribution to the work of the House and will be sorely missed,” he said in a statement. “In his years as Inspector General, and earlier in the deputy’s post, Jim tackled some of the toughest internal issues facing the House.

“In a nutshell, Jim Cornell called them like he saw them, regardless of which party was in the majority – high praise indeed for anyone tasked with serving both sides of an institution intentionally designed to operate along party lines.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also expressed her disappointment that Cornell was leaving.

“He has served the House of Representatives with integrity and unparalleled professionalism since 2004, and has maintained a strong commitment to transparency and accountability in his oversight role over public funds used by the House of Representatives,” she said in a statement.

“James Cornell’s distinguished service as Deputy Inspector General and Inspector General helped the House be good stewards of the public trust.  His energy, professionalism and dedication to the House will be sorely missed.”