House rejects proposal to boost Interior watchdog’s funding

House rejects proposal to boost Interior watchdog’s funding
© Greg Nash

The House on Wednesday rejected a Democratic-backed proposal that would have boosted funding for the Interior Department’s internal watchdog office.

The amendment proposed by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) to the appropriations bill to fund Interior and other agencies would have given Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) $54.986 million, a $2.5 million increase over what the GOP proposed for the office.

Lawmakers voted against the amendment by 223 to 190.

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The OIG, headed by Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall, has taken on an outsized role under the Trump administration as congressional Democrats, environmentalists and others have sought numerous investigations into allegations that Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkePuerto Rican police fire tear gas at crowds protesting governor Overnight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade Trump officials gut DC staff as public lands agency preps to move out West MORE violated ethics or spending rules.

Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the OIG has been stretched thin due to the Zinke projects.

“Funding and staffing shortfalls resulting from flat funding or small cuts have caused the Office of Inspector General in recent months to forgo investigations altogether. Investigation requests from Congress and from tips originating within the Department of the Interior have either been rejected or are awaiting resources to be freed up in order to address them,” he said on the House floor Tuesday.

Grijalva said the $2.5 million boost would provide for five new administrative investigators, up to six new field investigators and five new auditors.

The amendment would have paid for the boost by taking the same money away from Zinke’s office.

Republicans said the funding boost is unnecessary, noting that the OIG didn’t request it. The office got $49.95 million in the current year’s budget.

“Although I am a big fan of the Inspector General's office, the current budget is funded at the budget request, and therefore I do not see us raising $2.5 million by raiding the secretary of the Interior's operating account. I think it goes way too far,” said Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarThe 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran Conservatives ask Barr to lay out Trump's rationale for census question House sends Trump border aid bill after Pelosi caves to pressure from moderates MORE (R-Ariz.)

The OIG said in April that Zinke didn’t violate travel rules when he used charter aircraft a handful of times on the taxpayer’s dime last year.

But in a report earlier this year, investigators said they couldn’t conclude whether Zinke and his staff followed federal standards when it reassigned dozens of senior career employees because the agency didn’t keep records sufficient to draw a conclusion.

The House voted on four other amendments to the spending bill Wednesday afternoon.

Lawmakers rejected a proposal by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) to move $1.4 million into the National Park Service’s maintenance account from the Bureau of Land Management’s land acquisition account and one from Rep. Alma AdamsAlma Shealey AdamsHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Serena Williams, Mark Cuban invest in company working to end black maternal mortality Harris introduces bill to combat racial bias in maternal health care MORE (D-N.C.) to push for higher funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) environmental justice program.

The House passed an amendment by Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) to shift $3 million to Interior’s Office of Navajo-Hopi Relocation from the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians and one from Rep. Glenn GrothmanGlenn S. GrothmanGOP moves to block provision banning use of Defense funds for border wall 58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill GOP lawmaker: Trump 'not quite popular enough' to advance an immigration bill MORE (R-Wis.) to cut by 15 percent the budgets of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.