Monday, September 24, 2007
Watchdogs Gone Wild
The Inspector General Act of 1978 states Inspectors General (IG) are appointed within the federal government to "conduct, supervise, and coordinate audit and investigations" for "the purpose of preventing and detecting fraud and abuse." Yesterday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote to State Department Inspector General (IG) Howard Krongard to highlight allegations from seven employees that the IG "has repeatedly interfered with on-going investigations to protect the State Department and the White House from political embarrassment." In an extensive letter, Waxman detailed how Krongard helped exonerate a contractor accused of labor trafficking in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, interfered with incriminating investigations, and censored reports to avoid disclosure to Congress. Unfortunately, Krongard's case has become representative of the supposed "watchdogs" in the Bush administration. As Beth Daley of the Project on Government Oversight observed, "If they're breaking all the rules they're supposed to be enforcing, then obviously we've got a problem." Legislation offered by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is making its way through Congress to strengthen IG offices and protect against corruption.
RAMPANT WASTE AND DODGING ACCOUNTABILITY: Whistleblowers within the U.S. Postal Service in 2003 found that former IG Karla Corcoran presided over millions of dollars spent for "corporate retreats, thousands to make videos of employees dancing, building gingerbread houses, and other activities many employees found humiliating." In June, Commerce Department IG Johnnie Frazier resigned amidst "allegations ranging from fraud and abuse" to "egregious violations" of the federal law that protects whistle-blowers, demoting two employees who investigated his spending practices. Earlier this year, acting Environmental Protection Agency IG Bill Roderick was investigated by a congressional committee for allegedly launching a plan in June 2006 to cut 60 investigators and auditors from his staff and "give himself a $15,000 raise."
PROVIDING COVER FOR ALLIES: As a former Pentagon IG, Joseph Schmitz "refused congressional entreaties to declassify a report detailing how the administration was providing inadequate training and protective gear to troops in the event of a bio-chemical attack." Former Health and Human Services IG Janet Rehnquist -- daughter of former Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist -- resigned in 2003 while the target of "three federal investigations," including one from the Government Accountability Office as to whether Rehnquist delayed an audit of Florida's pension fund just as Gov. Jeb Bush (R) faced a "tight race for re-election." Rehnquist had also been accused of "using her office for personal gain and leading a bloodletting of senior staffers who disagreed with her methods." Furthermore, an April 2007 report by the Integrity Committee found that NASA IG Robert Cobb "routinely tipped off department officials to internal investigations and quashed a report related to the Columbia shuttle explosion to avoid embarrassing the agency." Cobb currently remains the NASA IG.
INDEPENDENCE NEEDED: While IG abuse is present, many watchdogs still play an exemplary role in providing a source of accountability within the federal government. Justice Department IG Glenn Fine recently uncovered excessive spending at Department events, including $13,000 spent on "cookies and brownies" for over 1,500 people at a conference. Fine has also vowed to investigate outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's misleading testimony on the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the improper hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys. Additionally, Fine looked into whether Monica Goodling's "uncomfortable" conversation with Gonzales prior to testifying to Congress constituted obstruction of justice. Recently, the CIA IG revealed that former Director George Tenet "failed to marshal sufficient resources and provide the strategic planning" prior to 9/11. Despite being a former Bush campaign aide, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, has "repeatedly embarrassed the Bush administration" for its reconstruction efforts in Iraq and has become a leading figure in exposing fraud and corruption. His efforts at restoring accountability have been so successful that he has made himself a target of the administration and congressional conservatives.