Commerce IG Accused of Whistleblower Retaliation Suddenly Quits

Commerce IG Accused of Whistleblower Retaliation Suddenly Quits

Flickr/sciencedemocrats
By Brianna Ehley, The Fiscal Times

Embattled Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser, who has been accused of misconduct and retaliation against whistleblowers, just announced that he is stepping down after seven years at the agency. 

In an internal email to his staff, Zinser said he would be leaving his watchdog post to “pursue opportunities outside of government service,” GovExec first reported.

Zinser, the top watchdog in charge of keeping tabs on the Commerce Department, has been under intense scrutiny for nearly a year amid allegations of whistleblower retaliation and improperly hiring a woman with whom he was said to be romantically involved.

Related: Corruption in Commerce Dept? Lawmakers Want Him Out

For months, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and two independent watchdog groups, have been calling on President Obama to fire Zinser over the alleged misconduct, which has been the subject of at least one federal probe by the White House Office of Special Council.

The White House has not responded to comment on whether Zinser was asked to leave.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have been probing into multiple allegations brought by whistleblowers against Zinser for the better part of a year.

“The Committee has uncovered evidence questioning whether the Commerce IG’s office is functioning with integrity. We must determine if these allegations are true and if so, they are the result of systemic issues that may require legislative action,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter published last year.

Related: Why This Government Watchdog Needs Watching 

In one instance, the IG reportedly failed to discipline two employees in his office who intimidated potential whistleblowers.

Another whistleblower told the committee that the IG improperly hired his “girlfriend” for a senior role in the office, which had an annual salary of $150,000 plus bonuses. Zinser maintained that he and the woman were not romantically involved and defended her employment. 

He told the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) that she was hired solely “on business necessity.”

There is currently a Government Accountability Office investigation into Zinser’s office conduct that is expected to be published in the coming months. 

Zinser previously served as the Transportation Department’s acting inspector general and deputy inspector general.

Hospitals Sue to Protect Secret Prices

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times
By The Fiscal Times Staff

As expected, groups representing hospitals sued the Trump administration Wednesday to stop a new regulation would require them to make public the prices for services they negotiate with insurers. Claiming the rule “is unlawful, several times over,” the industry groups, which include the American Hospital Association, say the rule violates their First Amendment rights, among other issues.

"The burden of compliance with the rule is enormous, and way out of line with any projected benefits associated with the rule," the suit says. In response, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said that hospitals “should be ashamed that they aren’t willing to provide American patients the cost of a service before they purchase it.”

See the lawsuit here, or read more at The New York Times.

A Decline in Medicaid and CHIP Enrollment

Dr. Benjamin Hoffman speaks with Nancy Minoui about 9 month old Marion Burgess, who suffers from a chronic heart condition, at an appointment at the Dornbecher Children's hospital in Portland
NATALIE BEHRING
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Between December 2017 and July 2019, enrollment in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) fell by 1.9 million, or 2.6%. The Kaiser Family Foundation provided an analysis of that drop Monday, saying that while some of it was likely caused by enrollees finding jobs that offer private insurance, a significant portion is related to enrollees losing health insurance of any kind. “Experiences in some states suggest that some eligible people may be losing coverage due to barriers maintaining coverage associated with renewal processes and periodic eligibility checks,” Kaiser said.

Tweet of the Day: The Black Hole of Big Pharma

A growing number of patients are being denied access to newer oral chemotherapy drugs for cancer pills with annual price tags of more than $75,000.
iStockphoto
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Billionaire John D. Arnold, a former energy trader and hedge fund manager turned philanthropist with a focus on health care, says Big Pharma appears to have a powerful hold on members of Congress.

Arnold pointed out that PhRMA, the main pharmaceutical industry lobbying group, had revenues of $459 million in 2018, and that total lobbying on behalf of the sector probably came to about $1 billion last year. “I guess $1 bil each year is an intractable force in our political system,” he concluded.

Warren’s Taxes Could Add Up to More Than 100%

iStockphoto/ James Group Studios, Inc.
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin says Elizabeth Warren’s proposed taxes could claim more than 100% of income for some wealthy investors. Here’s an example Rubin discussed Friday:

“Consider a billionaire with a $1,000 investment who earns a 6% return, or $60, received as a capital gain, dividend or interest. If all of Ms. Warren’s taxes are implemented, he could owe 58.2% of that, or $35 in federal tax. Plus, his entire investment would incur a 6% wealth tax, i.e., at least $60. The result: taxes as high as $95 on income of $60 for a combined tax rate of 158%.”

In Rubin’s back-of-the-envelope analysis, an investor worth $2 billion would need to achieve a return of more than 10% in order to see any net gain after taxes. Rubin notes that actual tax bills would likely vary considerably depending on things like location, rates of return, and as-yet-undefined policy details. But tax rates exceeding 100% would not be unusual, especially for billionaires.