WASHINGTON, D.C. –Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, responded to a new Department of Commerce Office of the Inspector General memo to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross titled, “The Department Is Actively Preventing OIG From Completing An Evaluation.” The OIG’s report on Hurricane Dorian took 10 months to complete, but only a summary has so far been posted.
Yesterday, before the memo was sent, Senator Cantwell demanded the release of the full report, saying, “It appears that the Department of Commerce received an Inspector General report of an investigation into Hurricane Dorian information mismanagement on June 26th, but has blocked its release. I expect that full, unredacted report to be made public immediately in the interest of full transparency.”
Now, in response to the memo, Ranking Member Cantwell said: “This situation has gone from bad to worse. Secretary Ross must immediately cease this campaign to keep the public in the dark. The Inspector General is doing their job and the public deserves to see the report. Release the report now, Mr. Secretary.”
The memo from Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson states, “I am concerned that the substance of our report and findings has resulted in this retaliatory posturing.” She continues, “To allow the Department’s all-encompassing and opaque assertion of privilege to stand is to effectively grant the Department a pocket veto over the completion and issuance of final OIG work, which is clearly contrary to the IG Act, OIG independence, and good government. It also violates Department policy to cooperate fully with OIG.”
Senator Cantwell has repeatedly called for transparency around this issue. On February 11, 2020, Cantwell sent a letter to IG Gustafson requesting updates on this investigation, and on March 6, 2020, she sent a letter to Assistant Secretary Neil Jacobs questioning all emails he sent or received pertaining to this issue. On June 8, 2020, Cantwell sent a letter to IG Gustafson regarding her concerns surrounding the alleged involvement by Mr. Michael J. Walsh, Jr., Chief of Staff of the Department, in the Hurricane Dorian incident. Walsh has been nominated to serve as General Counsel of the Department.