Energy & Environment

Trump appoints Social Security Administration watchdog to also oversee Interior

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President Trump has quietly appointed his Social Security Administration (SSA) inspector general to also oversee a much different agency: the Interior Department. 

On May 28, Gail Ennis began her second job overseeing the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), a role she will keep for the foreseeable future, the OIG confirmed to The Hill.

{mosads}The Trump administration is still awaiting the confirmation of Mark Greenblatt, the former assistant inspector general for investigations at the Commerce Department, to formally head the Interior’s OIG office.

Ennis was sworn into the SSA role just five months ago, her first time serving as an inspector general. Her professional background is in securities litigation, working previously as a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm WilmerHale, where she reportedly earned $2 million a year.

At the SSA, Ennis has most recently led efforts to thwart scam Social Security phone calls, at the Interior department she will oversee investigations into Interior’s newly appointed Secretary David Bernhardt’s lobbying ties and two ongoing Justice Department investigations into former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. One of those investigations has reportedly made it to the grand jury.

The appointment of Ennis to Interior was not formally announced by the White House, however, the Interior Department’s website was updated last week to reflect her new position.

Ennis replaces former acting Inspector General Mary Kendall, who retired from the office at the end of May. Kendall oversaw multiple ethics investigations into Zinke, including recommending a number of them to the Justice Department for further investigation. Those investigations reportedly played a heavy factor in Zinke’s decision to leave the administration early this year.

Ennis is the second Trump political appointee whom the administration has attempted to put in the Interior OIG role.

Earlier this year, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson announced to staff that Assistant HUD Secretary Suzanne Israel Tufts would replace Kendall. Because Tufts had been previously confirmed by the Senate, she would not have to go through another confirmation process for the role. 

However, following backlash to that announcement, the Interior Department later said the announcement was a misunderstanding and Carson reversed the move. Tufts resigned not long after.

“On May 28th, Social Security [Inspector General] Gail S. Ennis started at [Department of Interior] OIG as Acting Inspector General. Continuing with her responsibilities as SSA IG, Ms. Ennis will also lead our organization while Mark Greenblatt’s nomination continues to progress in the Senate,” an OIG spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill.

The White House referred comment to the Interior OIG. The Interior Department did not return a request for comment.

In addition to the ongoing investigations into Interior’s current and former secretaries, the OIG is also investigating six high-ranking interior officials for ethics concerns.

Wilmer Hale, the law firm where Ennis previously worked as a partner, lobbies for a number of clients with business before Interior. For example, the law firm represents Twin Metals a Minnesota based mineral mining company that is lobbing to build a hotly debated copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In May, the Trump administration moved to renew one of the mine’s mineral leases, reversing a decision from the Obama administration.

Ennis, who was not a registered lobbyist, said the Interior OIG ethics office is currently reviewing her former clients.

“DOI OIG General Counsel is conducting a thorough ethics review that will ensure that I do not participate in any matter that would create a conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict of interest,” Ennis told the Hill in a statement.

This story has been updated 3:00 p.m.

Alex Gangitano contributed.

Tags Ben Carson Donald Trump Interior Department Mark Green Office of the Inspector General Ryan Zinke Social Security Administration Trump appointees White House

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