Department of Labor Inspector General Nominee: Too Political, Too Controversial

Fresh from the recess appointment of former SEIU lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board, President Obama has nominated another controversial figure to a key post in his administration. In May, Obama nominated Paul Tiao for Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Labor (DOL.) The nomination is troublesome.

While presidents generally take nominees’ political views into account when making appointments, a nominee’s views should not be so far outside the political mainstream as to bring his judgment into question. And, while most executive appointments go to political allies of the president who will carry out his policies, some powerful positions like Inspector General require a much greater degree of impartiality. Tiao fails on both counts:

Tiao has advocated allowing non-citizens—including illegal aliens—to vote in U.S. elections.

In a 1993 Columbia Human Right Law Review article, “Non-Citizen Suffrage: An Argument Based on the Voting Rights Act and Related Law,” Tiao argued that all lawful permanent residents—non-citizens—should be given the right to vote in federal, state, and local elections. But that’s not all. In a footnote, Tiao makes the case for illegal aliens being given the vote, arguing that, “suffrage should be extended to other non-citizen groups as well. Tiao notes “Takoma Park [Maryland]’s Charter amendment …. technically extended suffrage to all non-citizens, including undocumented aliens.” He uses this example to argue illegal aliens should be allowed to vote.

Why does this matter? Because, as Inspector General, Tiao would be responsible for monitoring and ensuring the integrity of the Labor Department’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification Program, which is responsible for administering both permanent and temporary visas to foreign workers in the United States.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) was created as a response to government scandals in the 1970s. IGs conduct audits, investigate, and make evaluations to departmental programs. They are tasked with ensuring that federal agencies comply with all laws and regulations.  In the Department of Labor the OIG conducts criminal, civil, and administrative investigations involving programs, operations, and personnel at the Department of Labor. The DOL OIG is unique that it can conduct external investigations dealing with labor racketeering.

Obama’s nomination of Paul Tiao could be seen as political repayment. Tiao co-founded the Asian American Action Fund, which coordinated closely with the Democratic National Committee to elect Barack Obama.

The Asian American Action Fund received $38,000 from union PACs—or over one-third of its funding for the 2008 election cycle. The unions included the American Federation for State,

County and Municipal Employees (AFSME), the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the National Education Association, Sheet Metal Workers, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU.)

The Inspector General Act of 1978 is explicit in saying the IG shall be appointed “without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations.” The Department of Labor’s website specifically says IGs are “non-political.”

The neutrality of IGs is paramount because they are responsible for conducting audits, investigating alleged improprieties, and evaluating the efficacy of departmental programs. IGs are crucial to ensuring that federal agencies comply with all applicable laws and regulations. Having a political operative in this position is akin to letting the fox guard the hen house.

If appointed, Tiao would be in charge of investigating fraudulent applications for worker visas. Can a nominee who has advocated giving the right to vote to illegal immigrants be reasonably expected to fairly monitor visa applications against fraud?

He will also be responsible for investigating the very unions his PAC received money from in the past. Could Tiao’s past affiliations with organized labor and his predilections for politics present a conflict of interest?