Government ethics attorneys say Obama's IG system is broken
AT News Director Ed Lasky has chronicled the shameful problems with Obama administration inspector generals for years, including the political pressures put on IG's in almost every department of the administration.
A perfect illustration of this is former DHS IG Charles Edwards, who deliberately slowed investigations into wrongdoing at DHS, including the shredding of dozens of emails - an act that might send him to jail for obstruction of justice.
The Senate subcommittee began its investigation into Edwards last year when it started looking into complaints that his investigation into the U.S. Secret Service's hiring of prostitutes during a presidential advance trip in Cartagena, Colombia, was tainted.
The subcommittee uncovered numerous allegations against Edwards — some that pertained to his Secret Service probe and many others that were completely unrelated.
The panel found strong evidence that Edwards was altering and delaying investigations and reports to please political appointees at DHS who were in a position to influence President Obama to permanently elevate him to the top post. At the time, Edwards was serving as the acting inspector general.
According to the Senate report, Edwards put three of his staff on administrative leave after they balked when he directed them to delete parts of the office's investigation into Secret Service misconduct in Colombia -- evidence that would have cast the Secret Service in a more negative light, as well as implicate a White House staffer.
A senior DHS inspector general office aide also said that Edwards ordered alterations to a March 2012 report looking into complaints that senior DHS officials intentionally misled Congress and the public about an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program called Secure Communities aimed at identifying illegal immigrants.
Throughout the Senate investigation last year, Edwards was allowed to remain as acting DHS inspector general. It was only when the Senate Homeland Security committee was set to hold a hearing on the Edwards matter in December that DHS transferred him to another division with the agency.
Beyond politicized IG's, there is also the matter of Obama's failure to name and get confirmed permanent Inspector Generals. Nine major departments. including State, do not have permanent IG's. There is also the war on inspector generals that the administration continues to wage.
The case of Gerald Walpin, IG for Americorps, is instructive:
At the time, ABC News reported that a “source familiar with the president’s thinking” said that Mr. Obama wanted to replace Mr. Walpin with “someone who could effectively provide the kind of independent oversight that the president values.” The best way to assure “independent oversight” is to remind all inspectors general that they will be axed if they embarrass the White House. A joint House-Senate investigation concluded that firing Mr. Walpin “undermines the Inspectors General Act.”
In the same month Mr. Walpin was fired, the administration unsuccessfully sought to obliterate the independence of the special inspector general for TARP, Neil Barofsky. Some IGs who have not been fired have instead come under withering pressure. Russell George, the IG who exposed the IRS’ targeting of conservative nonprofit groups, has been hammered by Mr. Obama’s congressional allies for almost a year. The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John Sopko, has been harshly criticized by bureaucrats and political appointees for his forthright reports on Afghan debacles.
Cheri Cannon, a partner at Tully Rinckey, a Washington, D.C., federal employment law firm who has worked with government ethics issues as a former senior Air Force executive civilian personnel lawyer, said the Integrity Committee should have referred the complaint that Edwards deleted months of emails related to a DOJ investigation, to DOJ's Public Integrity section.
“This referral should have been done, but it's not clear that it was done,” she said.
The lack of accountability demonstrated in Edwards' case is extremely troubling, she said.
As the top acting watchdog for DHS, “Edwards is a senior executive who is held to a higher standard than General Schedule employees, and his integrity and ethics should be beyond reproach,” she said.
“To simply reassign Edwards to another [career government] job, without proposing disciplinary action — a suspension or removal from federal service — for documented and substantiated federal ethics violations, is not what the American public deserves,” she said.
The allegations leveled against Edwards in the Senate report have given watchdog groups new evidence for their concern about President Obama's failure to fill inspector-general vacancies. Edwards was serving as an acting inspector general for three years because Obama did not nominate someone for the top Senate-confirmed position.
After more than 5 years, it's clear that the president prefers a certain kind of IG - pliant, and understanding of the administration's political necessities. You wonder what other investigations have been squealched or otherwise hampered by politicized inspector generals.