Todd J. Zinser

Commerce Department Inspector General

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Why He Matters

The Commerce Department houses a wide array of economic, business, scientific and environmental agencies through its headquarters and 12 major bureaus, with a budget of some $17 billion and 54,400 employees.

As inspector general, Zinser is the Commerce Department's internal watchdog, leading a staff of investigators, auditors, attorneys and evaluators whose goal is to improve the department's programs and operations. His team promotes economy and efficiency of the operations, detects fraud and waste, and reviews potential abuses.

In His Own Words

"I was surprised by (document shredding by the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement while it was under investigation). What came to my mind is, I wonder what the office of law enforcement would do if a fishing company they were investigating had done the same thing?"


At a Glance

  • Career History: Various positions, highest permanent position was deputy inspector general Department of Transportation (1991-2007); Department of Labor , investigator (1983-1991)
  • Alma Mater: Northern Kentucky University, B.A., political science; Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), master's in political science; John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard), completion of senior managers in government program.
  • DC Office: Herbert C. Hoover Building, 1401 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20230

Path to Power

Zinser, who was appointed to his current post by President George W. Bush in 2007, has nearly three decades of experience in three different Cabinet-level departments.

He launched his federal government career in 1983 as an investigator for the Labor Department. In 1991, he moved to the Transportation Department (DOT), starting as special agent in charge of the Office of Inspector General's New York regional office of investigations. Over the next decade, he moved through the ranks as deputy assistant inspector general for investigations and assistant inspector general for investigations.

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The Issues

As an independent investigator and inspector general's official for nearly 30 years, Zinser has conspicuosly avoided leaving a record on politics, public policy and social issues. He has, however, consistently insisted on proper documentation and fiscal accountability and transparency of the offices he oversees. And he has often undertaken investigations that have made the news. Recent probes include:

Fisheries Enforcement

In January 2010, Zinser released the results of an investigation into accusations of abuses of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries enforcement process and the operations of its law enforcement office.

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The Network

Both within his office and department, and also outside Commerce, Zinser's nearly 30 years as a federal inspector have given him a large network.

As inspector general for the Commerce Department, Zinser reports to Secretary Gary Locke and works with other top department officials, including Deputy Secretary Dennis Hightower, Chief of Staff Ellen Moran and General Counsel Cameron Kerry, as well as Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Wade.

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Campaign Contributions

No public records of campaign contributions by Zinser were found in campaign finance databases.