Saturday, June 13, 2009

Obama's Firing Inspector General A Can Of Worms

President Barack Obama's abrupt firing of the inspector general of AmeriCorps caught my attention only because by comparison his predecessor never seemed to have the gumption to axe anyone. But, then, digging into the details, the canning of IG Gerald Walpin is murky to say the least. It is a story of political intrigue, favoritism to a campaign supporter and two wings of the executive branch in cahoots with each other. Here are the facts in the case the best I can figure:

Walpin, a George W. Bush appointee, investigated alleged misuse of federal grants to a non-profit education group led by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and vocal supporter and contributor of Obama. Walpin accused Johnson's group of using portions of the $850,000 AmeriCorps grant to pay volunteers to campaign for a school board election as well as personal services such as driving Johnson to functions and washing his personal car.

In August 2008 Walpin, whose only punitive power is to withhold grant funds, referred the case to the federal prosecutor. The prosecutor determined the investigation was mishandled and misleading while referring Walpin to an ethics committee that governs the conduct of inspectors general. "We also highlighted numerous questions and further investigation they needed to conduct, including the fact that they had not done an audit to establish how much AmeriCorps money was actually misspent," Acting U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown said in an April 29 letter to the federal counsel of inspectors general. Yet, the prosecutor's office negotiated a $424,000 settlement with Johnson and St. HOPE Academy, a nonprofit group receiving the federal grants from the Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs the AmeriCorps program.

It must be noted that Walpin made numerous comments about his investigation during Johnson's campaign for Sacramento mayor. It led the prosecutor's office to announce no criminal charges were being contemplated.

Obama on Wednesday tried to force Walpin to resign but he refused. The president in a letter Friday notified House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the senate pro tem, Vice President Joe Biden, of his decision which takes place in 30 days. "It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general," Obama said in the letter. "That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general."

The president didn't offer any more explanation, but White House Counsel Gregory Craig, in a letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, cited the U.S. attorney's criticism of Walpin to an integrity committee for inspectors general.

The problem with Obama's letter is that it offered no reason for the firing despite the fact that as U.S. senator, Obama endorsed the legislation that reformed rules governing inspectors general from being fired on political grounds.

Walpin defended his work on Friday. "I know that I and my office acted with the highest integrity as an independent inspector general should act," he said. Walpin said he gave the integrity committee "a full and complete response" that was also signed by several people who worked on the case. "I have no question but that we acted totally properly," he said.

Alan Solomont, a Democrat and the board chairman of the government-run AmeriCorps, and Stephen Goldsmith, a Republican and the board's vice chair, said they strongly endorsed Obama's decision.

I don't know what to believe. It appears Obama is playing hardball politics while at the same time ignoring whistleblower legislation he co-sponsored two years earlier. On the other hand, how can an inspector general accuse a firm of squandering federal grant money when he doesn't even conduct an audit?

This story fell below the MSM radar but the conservative blogs are questioning Obama's lack of transparency and on this occasion for good cause.

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