The Commerce Department inspector general’s office has removed two officials who allegedly threatened subordinates with negative performance reviews if they did not sign gag agreements before moving to new jobs.
In April, the House committee that oversees the agency unanimously called on Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser to fire the two employees, special counsel Wade Green and senior special agent Rick Beitel, who was previously the top assistant inspector general for investigations.
Two individuals with knowledge of the removals have confirmed the actions by the inspector general’s office. One said the employees were placed on administrative leave Wednesday. The other source said they were escorted from the building and prohibited from physical and electronic access to the department.
Zinser declined to comment on the matter, except to say that the employees are “still on the payroll.” Federal workers removed from their jobs remain technically employed by their agencies while the lengthy termination process, which includes a chance to appeal, is completed.
Green and Beitel both declined to comment for this article on Wednesday.
The Office of Special Counsel, which reviews federal whistleblower complaints, found this year that Green and Beitel drafted negative performance appraisals for several employees and threatened to place the reviews in the workers’ permanent files unless they signed agreements not to disparage the inspector general’s office.
OSC examined Zinser’s role in the matter and found no direct “documentary evidence” that he was aware of wrongdoing.
The removals of Green and Beitel came four days before Zinser made another leadership change, appointing former federal prosecutor Morgan Kim as the Commerce Department’s new deputy inspector general. Kim will serve a dual role, keeping her original position as assistant inspector general for investigations in Zinser’s office.
In a previous job as an attorney for the House Ethics Committee, Kim was accused of improperly passing information to Republican members about an investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who was suspected of working to secure money for a bank with ties to her husband. Kim denied wrongdoing but eventually left the committee staff, according to a Washington Post article.
An independent review in 2012 essentially cleared Kim of wrongdoing, saying: “There is no prohibition on ex parte contact between Committee Members and staff.” The House committee cleared Waters of all ethics charges in 2012, after nearly three years of investigation.
Zinser has led several consequential probes during his time as a federal inspector general. Last week, his office released the results of a year-long investigation revealing that the Patent and Trademark Office paid employees between $60,000 and $80,000 a year to do virtually nothing.
Zinser also issued a report in 2010 detailing alleged abuses of the badge by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration law enforcement officials overseeing fisheries in the Northeast. That review led to the Commerce Department paying nearly $650,000 in remittance to fishermen.
Story updated on Aug. 8 to show that an independent review cleared Kim Morgan of wrongdoing.