Federal inspectors general are supposed to be independent watchdogs of federal agencies, and while former President Donald Trump purged numerous inspectors general last spring on vague pretenses, President Biden has to decide if he will further break norms by firing Trump's picks and replacing them with officials confirmed in the usual way, The New York Times reports. The biggest dilemmas are Eric Soskin, the inspector general for the Transportation Department, and Brian Miller, a former Trump White House lawyer appointed earlier in 2020 to look for abuses in pandemic spending.
"Nearly all inspectors general since Congress created the independent anti-corruption watchdog positions in 1978 were confirmed unanimously or by voice vote without recorded opposition," but only one Democrat voted to confirm Miller, the Times reports. Along with the objections he was too close to Trump, Miller has faced scrutiny for apparently doing little in his first eight months, though he submitted a report to Congress on Monday outlining some investigative work. "I try to be bipartisan and nonpartisan — certainly as an inspector general and in everything that I do," Miller told the Times.
Soskin's office, meanwhile, was investigating whether Trump's transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, had improperly steered federal grants to Kentucky to help the re-election of her husband, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). In December, McConnell, then majority leader, used his power to prioritize Soskin's confirmation over four other inspector general nominees ahead of him in line, the Times reports, ensuring that a Republican appointee would control the office once Biden took office. Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, flagged McConnell's move a the time.
It took McConnell two tries, but on Dec. 21 he eventually got Soskin confirmed 48-47, the first ever party-line vote for an inspector general. Despite the evident conflict of interest, Brian said removing Soskin and other Trump-appointed inspectors general "would be essentially exacerbating the problems he created in the first place."
Soskin declined through a spokesman to comment on the status of his office's Chao-McConnell investigation. A spokesman for McConnell pointed to a 2019 statement in which McConnell openly touted his ability to funnel federal dollars to Kentucky.