COMMISSIONER OF ADMIN. TAKES COCKY REP. TO SCHOOL ON CONSTITUTION
House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday afternoon took up the confirmation of Commissioner of Administration Designee Kelly Tshibaka. And what seems like it would be the most prosaic of interviews quickly became drama-filled.
The commissioner sat before committee members and faced Committee Co-Chair Rep. Zack Fields, who had already told her to be ready for his questions about her religion.
Tshibaka is a Christian. But this wasn’t her first rodeo. She was ready. After all, not only had Zack Fields asked her about her religious beliefs during private conversations, when she had introduced herself to him during official rounds, other members of the Democratic caucus had also raised concerns about her Christianity.
Tshibaka started her testimony with her opening statement, telling the committee that she was born and raised in Alaska on moose tongue sandwiches. She is a graduate of Steller Secondary School in Anchorage, and learned the love of numbers and accuracy from her mother, who was an auditor for ConocoPhillips. Her dad was an IBEW electrician, and she learned the importance of teamwork from him, and from him she also learned about standing up for herself when necessary.
She went through her extensive resume: Harvard Law School graduate. Former chief data officer for the United States Postal Service Office of the Inspector General. U.S. Department of Justice counsel. Counsel and chief investigator for the Office of Inspector General.
And then she touched on a subject that made Rep. Fields horrified: She outed him for having questioned her in private about her religious beliefs. Fields, as a former operative for the Alaska Democratic Party, is used to dishing it out, but not used to taking it.
Tshibaka told the committee how incredible it was that this had happened to her when she had spoken to Fields earlier, and how it was unconstitutional and that her religious rights as a citizen working in government had been upheld by many a Supreme Court case.
Fields was visibly shocked. His lip quivered and he denied that he had asked her about her religion, but only wanted to know if she would discriminate against those who were not Christian.
It’s not the kind of question he would have asked a Jew or a Muslim. This is the kind of discrimination that is reserved for Christians, at least in his circle of friends.
In 2015, Tshibaka was appointed chief data officer at the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, where data analytics has resulted in more than $920 million in financial impact or audit findings in 2016.
Before that she served as the Acting Inspector General of the Federal Trade Commission and in the Office of the Director for National Intelligence, where she conducted civil liberties and privacy oversight and was counsel to the Inspector General. Earlier, she was special assistant to the Department of Justice Inspector General, conducting sensitive investigations; overseeing audits, investigations, and inspections; and assisting in managing employees nationwide.
At the Postal Service, she tracked down fraud, waste, and abuse. Her data analytics team helped auditors recover $121 million in fines and restitution for fraudulent billings to the Postal Service, and avoid making more than $110 million in payments on improper billings.
Tshibaka was tapped to round out the governor’s core team of policy advisors – focusing primarily on areas of management, audit and government efficiency.
But, in spite of her remarkable resume, all that Rep. Fields wanted to know about was: Will she be able to set her religious beliefs aside when performing her duties for the State of Alaska.
In the end, Fields tabled her confirmation interview and did not allow her name to be forwarded out of committee.