The 2012 survey was completed by 82% of all IG staff with final results reported in mid-September. A key finding was employee response to the question of whether the IG "conducts its work in a manner that is independent (free from improper influence) from the Department [of Interior]." Nearly one in seven respondents said no and more than a quarter would not say either way. Less than 60% said yes, a lower percentage than in surveys from the previous two years. Staff comments included the following:
- "I think there is widespread distrust and low morale in the organization right now. There are at least perceptions the acting IG and COS [Chief of Staff] did not do the right thing, ie [sic], improperly quashed investigations, and have not been forthright with Congress";
- "Wake up and quit trying to 'get approval' from DOI [Interior]...we have a job to do"; and
- "Be careful with how much reports get softened to avoid 'slamming' the Department in the interest of maintaining a good relationship."
"As an acting IG, Mary Kendall's tenure depends upon pleasing the very people she is supposed to investigate. As a result, this watchdog is not just on a very tight leash, it is on a choke chain," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "To be effective and remain independent, an IG must be willing on a daily basis to get canned or resign if the mission is compromised."
Pleasing her superiors entails not only softening reports or quashing probes it can also include targeting employees who inconvenience senior Interior managers. Last week, for example, it was revealed that the IG conducted a controversial investigation into Arctic scientists as part of an effort to stem and discredit the source of embarrassing leaks. The more than two-year effort identified no scientific misconduct but did interrupt one scientist's extensive research and disrupt his career.
"Kendall doesn't seem to get it that her job is to seek and tell the truth, not please politicians and lobbyists," said PEER Southwest Director Daniel Patterson, an Ecologist based in Tucson, Arizona who formerly worked with Interior agency BLM. "The serious troubles in her office undermine Interior employees' ability to honestly do their jobs based on science and truth, not politics and money."
Although Kendall seeks to be nominated as the permanent IG, even after confirmation every IG serves at the pleasure of the President – a status often cited for the tendency of many IGs to concentrate on low-level misconduct and eschew probing improper or imprudent political interference. This has long been a pattern at Interior IG, one perfected by Kendall's mentor, Earl Devaney, who was Interior IG until 2009.
"Under the current system, IGs revel in petty scandals and flee profound corruption," Ruch added. "If the Inspector Generals were truly independent, groups like PEER would not be so infernally busy."