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Looking Beyond Enforcement at the EPA

Indeed, even as Inhofe was accusing Tinsley of partisanship during the fall campaign, he was drawing on her other work to demand reforms in the way the EPA awards and oversees $4 billion in grants.

IGs at major agencies generally are presidential appointees -- in others, the administrator appoints them -- but they report to Congress and the public as well as their departments and do not turn over with administrations. There is no fixed term of office, and inspectors general are rarely removed, usually only for cause.

Nikki Tinsley, inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency, says her office is "not just about following rules." She says, "We want to know if the rules make sense." (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

In Profile

Nikki Tinsley

Title: Inspector general, Environmental Protection Agency.

Education: Bachelor's degree, Virginia Commonwealth University; master's degree, University of Northern Colorado.

Age: 56.

Family: Divorced; a grown daughter.

Career highlights: Deputy inspector general, divisional inspector general, EPA; audit manager and staff auditor, Minerals Management Service, Interior Department; worked at the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office), 1976-1982. She is also a certified public accountant.

Pastimes: Kayaking, traveling, reading.

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Congress created the position to root out waste, fraud and abuse, in hopes of raising public confidence in government. IGs more recently have been evaluating how effectively agencies pursue their goals, and Tinsley is a leader on this frontier, according to Gaston L. Gianni Jr., her counterpart at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and leader of the presidentially appointed IGs council. He calls Tinsley "a tremendous leader in the IG community."

Hardly the stereotype of the green-eyeshaded auditor, Tinsley is one of only two women among presidentially appointed IGs. Tinsley's long career in government auditing is increasingly out of fashion among IGs. A study by the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee found that most of Bush's IG appointments have come from Republican political backgrounds, such as congressional or White House staffs, whereas Clinton's were mostly career public servants. The report cited Janet Rehnquist, daughter of the chief justice, appointed by Bush at the Department of Health and Human Services; she resigned in 2003 amid a congressional investigation into alleged politicization of her office. The investigation concerned 19 senior staff changes and her decision to delay a critical audit of Florida's pension fund until after Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) 2002 reelection. Rehnquist has said the staff moves were appropriate, and she has denied any political motive in the audit delay.

Tinsley said it is unlikely that government auditors will apply to be inspectors general in the future. She pointed out that the 2004 National Defense Authorization Act conditioned pay raises for Senior Executive Service employees on performance evaluations. But IGs cannot be evaluated by their departments without creating an appearance of conflict of interest. Along with existing restrictions on bonuses, this could cost IGs drawn from the SES up to $55,335 a year, she calculated. IGs are hoping Congress will change this, she said.

Another of Tinsley's distinctions is her life story. While in the Kansas City, Kan., office of the EPA, she fell from her family's horse barn and broke her back, losing the use of her legs. Asked how she rebuilt her life, she said simply, "I never thought I wouldn't get well again."

An avid outdoorswoman before her accident, she took up kayaking, in which she said her artificially low center of gravity is an advantage. She also completed the 2003 New York City Marathon in the wheelchair division, after having worked out for much of the year with her daughter and her communications director, Eileen McMahon, both of whom ran on foot.

A daughter of two government workers, Tinsley grew up in Ohio and worked in Denver and Kansas City before coming to Washington in 1995 as deputy IG. Asked where she will go next, she smiled, glanced matter-of-factly at the crutches beside her chair, then answered: "Somewhere where the pavement doesn't freeze."

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