Saturday, June 20, 2009

I Smell A RAT: The Firing Of I.G. Gerald Walpin

It seems that there is much more to this story than the firing of one man.
By now, anyone who follows the news or politics even peripherally is aware of the circumstances of the firing of Inspector General Gerald Walpin but, for the sake of thoroughness, I will recap the story.

Gerald Walpin was the Inspector General who was investigating Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson for possible misuse of funds at AmeriCorps, which is run by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Johnson and his program, known as St. Hope, received $850,000 in federal grant money. In the course of his investigation, Walpin learned that Johnson was using the money for things other than it was intended for, such as paying AmeriCorps staff for driving [Johnson] to personal appointments, washing his car, and running personal errands.

This was during the Sacramento Mayoral campaign, and Walpin concluded that Johnson and St. HOPE should be subject to suspension and debarment, but he only had the authority to suggest it. The ultimate decision was the responsibility of another official at the Corporation, who eventually decided on suspension based on Walpin's evidence. The suspension also carried the possibility of debarment, which caused great consternation among the City Council since, if elected mayor, Johnson and the city would be barred from receiving federal stimulus money. As Walpin put it, "The whole purpose of suspension and debarment, is to say that somebody who was involved in the misuse of government funds in the past should not be trusted with federal funds in the future."

Walpin also referred the matter to Lawrence Brown, the acting U.S. Attorney, for criminal inquiry. Not only did Brown's office decide against criminal charges against Johnson and St. Hope, he also entered into settlement talks with them, something that Walpin described as highly unusual. Brown "wanted to settle," Walpin recalls, "and he said that lifting the suspension had to be part of it because that was the 800-pound gorilla in the way of a settlement."

Obama injected himself into the situation on Wednesday, June 10th, through Norman Eisen, the Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform. Eisen called Walpin Wednesday night and told him that he should resign or be terminated, giving him an hour to decide. He even called Walpin back 45 minutes later. Walpin declined and was terminated, illegally.

According to the 2008 Inspectors General Reform Act, which then-Senator Obama co-sponsored, the president must give Congress 30 days notice and a cause for firing an I.G., which the administration clearly attempted to circumvent by demanding Walpin's resignation. When pressed on the matter, Obama claimed the cause was "lack of faith" in Waplin's abilities.

When that explanation failed to satisfy skeptics, the administration decided to play hardball. They issued a statement designed to portray the 77-year-old Walpin as senile, claiming that at a recent meeting he "was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the Board to question his capacity to serve." Glenn Beck decided to have Walpin on as a guest, and he appeared very bright and sharp with a firm command of both long and short term memory. See for yourselves:

What was even more interesting about that video is the mention of the obscure Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, or RAT board. The creation of the RAT board - a very appropriate acronym - was a provision of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill that received no attention at all. Most people probably have never even heard of it. What it effectively does is give the RAT Board the authority to ask “that an inspector general conduct or refrain from conducting an audit or investigation.”

While not a direct order to comply, the process of defying the Boards wishes is decidedly prohibitive to the point of discouraging an I.G. by design. An I.G. will probably be permitted to conduct an investigation against the wishes of the board only after writing a detailed report explaining his decision to proceed and submitting it to the board, the head of his agency and to Congress.

Inspectors General are supposed to be the taxpayers watchdog, offering transparency to the process and to the public. Congress passed the Inspectors General Reform Act for the purpose of protecting the I.G.s from political pressure in order that they may perform their duties without fear of retribution. Obama promised a transparent administration. So why all the subterfuge and meddling?

Obama was a huge mistake, America. I hope you've learned your lesson well.

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