DOD watchdog pick gets grilled by Senate Dems
- By Lauren C. Williams
- Aug 11, 2020
Senators questioned the background and abilities of President Donald Trump's pick for the Pentagon's top watchdog position during an Aug. 6 Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said that while Jason Abend, who now serves as a senior policy adviser at Customs and Borders Protection, was an experienced investigator, that didn't necessarily qualify him to be the Defense Department's inspector general, especially sans time in the military.
"We acknowledge your skill as an investigator but you will be leading 1,600 professionals in jobs that transcend investigations, they're very complex operations when it comes to the Department of Defense entity inspector general operations," Reed said.
Reed also highlighted that Abend's nomination circumvented a vetting process established by the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act, that set up a council of Inspector Generals on Integrity and Efficiency, which makes recommendations for appointments.
"Your nomination is the only recent nomination that was not submitted for a recommendation and so we have no input from the council," which Reed called "an unfortunate detriment" to Abend.
When asked if he would be able to keep tabs on his bosses, Abend said "speaking truth to power" was the crux of the IG's role. "I think one of the great aspects of my background is that I don't come from the Department of Defense. It makes me an independent arbiter of fact and not coming with any legacy bias. I don't belong to a service, I don't belong to a component. It's critical to talk truth to power; it's one of the key roles as an inspector general."
Abend's nomination comes after Trump demoted the previous acting DOD IG, Glenn Fine, who was also charged with overseeing pandemic response spending, to the principal deputy position. Fine's removal came after that of Michael Atkinson, the Intelligence Community's IG who advanced a whistleblower report on how the Trump administration handled the withholding of congressionally authorized funds to Ukraine. That report led to an investigation that escalated to Trump's impeachment in the House of Representatives.
Abend called whistleblower anonymity "paramount" for the program because without it the program "would crumble upon itself."