Will Obama’s IGs Be Blood Hounds or Lap Dogs? | Citizens Against Government Waste

Will Obama’s IGs Be Blood Hounds or Lap Dogs?

The WasteWatcher

Federal statutes currently allow for 69 inspectors general (IG) at all cabinet departments, large agencies and other designated federal entities.  These offices are charged with overseeing how tax dollars are spent.  Since they are, in effect, “first responders” to potential waste, fraud, and mismanagement within the government, IGs are granted broad powers to ensure a level of independence over those they are auditing or investigating.

That independence is revered publicly by legislators, government officials, and policymakers alike.  President Obama campaigned on protecting those that help to root out waste and fraud.  His campaign documents included the following:

Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled . . .  We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government.

Historically, protecting the IG’s from political interference is much easier when their activities uncover low-dollar, garden-variety waste and abuse at lower levels.  It is often when their excavations uncover potential abuses at higher levels of government or among politically well-connected players that one finds out how committed the White House truly is to independence. 

The latest example of that potential for friction is occurring with regard to the IG at the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees the AmeriCorps program.  IG Gerald Walpin, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and George W. Bush appointee, uncovered waste in that program that led investigators to a political ally of President Obama, former NBA basketball player and current Sacramento Mayor, Kevin Johnson.  The IG investigation uncovered evidence that Johnson, who ran a non-profit organization that had received $850,000 from AmeriCorps, had used the money to work on political campaigns and for personal expenses such as driving him to personal appointments and washing his car.  In April, 2009, the non-profit admitted to improperly spending the money and lax documentation and agreed to pay back $424,000.  Johnson himself anted up almost $73,000. 

Rather than denounce the misuse of taxpayer money uncovered by the IG and applaud his aggressive oversight, President Obama attacked the messenger and fired Walpin on June 10.  Walpin has now filed suit charging unlawful termination and Congress has begun to delve into issue. 

IGs throughout the government are carefully watching to see if Obama’s commitment to protect and encourage the “existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out” is real or if it expired when it threatened an ally.  They want to know if this is an isolated incident or a more concerted trend to install pliable IGs who will look the other way if their investigations lead them to powerful political cronies.

The Walpin case is one of several IG cases that have begun to roil.  Shakeups are underway at IG offices at the Library of Congress, the International Trade Commission, and AMTRAK.  Even the special IG appointed to oversee the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is encountering obstruction in his attempts to follow the money.  As TARP IG Neil Barofsky succinctly pointed out, “You can't ask the basic questions or have a debate about the fundamental policy questions without information.”  Yet, so far, Obama remains silent about directing the Treasury Department to comply with the request for information by Barofsky.

Roger Morse

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