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Eye Opener: Firing IGs an Act of 'Political Courage'?

By Ed O'Keefe

Norm Eisen, the ethics counsel for the White House, reportedly called the firing of Gerald Walpin an act of "political courage." (Photo by Ricky Carioti/Post)

Eye Opener

Happy Friday! Was firing Gerald Walpin an act of "political courage"?

The Washington Examiner's Byron York cites House GOP aides today who quote White House lawyer Norman Eisen as saying that he knew removing the former inspector general at the Corporation for National and Community Service "might be seen as an action that would raise questions. 'But [Eisen] said that what they did in trying to fix the situation was an act of political courage -- and 'political courage' is the phrase they used,' says the aide."

What an interesting argument: that the White House took the risky, or unpopular course, by dismissing someone who's supposed to serve as an independent operator, regularly working against the grain and most likely against the will of his or her agency.

Eisen's comments reminded The Eye of a late March report by the Project on Government Oversight, entitled "Inspectors General: Accountability is a Balancing Act." The group writes that:

The Inspector General law was unique in creating the IGs as "dual-hatted" entities who report both to Congress and to their agency heads. This dual reporting feature has not always been appreciated -- or even understood -- by administrations, and Congress itself has not always paid due respect to the reports of the entity it created.

One former IG told POGO that some senior executive officials suffered "a lack of recognition of the very fundamental obligation of the law."

These inspectors/watchdogs/investigators -- pick your word -- must regularly strike a careful balancing act, the report suggests (The Eye's emphasis added):

IGs are meant to be independent of department heads, and yet they also must report to them. They do not have to literally straddle a barbed-wire fence to realize their position is often no-win. There is a broad spectrum of possible relations between IGs and agency chiefs, ranging from antagonism to cronyism. If an IG is not annoying many of his colleagues most of the time, then he is probably not doing his job. Yet, if an IG is extremely adversarial, the walls go up and the day-to-day communication ceases. This would not serve the public interest any more than a totally compliant IG.

So if Walpin was the "annoying" or "adversarial" IG, as the White House claims and he denies, then who's an example of a successful, productive, "plays well with others" IG?

An example of a productive IG-agency relationship may be DOJ IG Glenn Fine. A former Deputy Attorney General declared that Fine adds value to overall management of the Department in that he is 'not so adversarial that we can't communicate or benefit.' Despite his often hard-hitting reports, he does not seem to believe he needs to be antagonistic toward the Department to get the job done. Yet Fine did not hesitate to go directly to Congress seeking authority his own Department has denied him.

So who's the politically courageous one? The White House for firing Walpin or Walpin for standing up and challenging his agency bosses?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Eisen's comments come as The Eye and colleague Amit R. Paley report today that "The special inspector general charged with overseeing the $700 billion bailout of the financial sector says he has been told by the Treasury Department that the agency has legal authority over his office, a claim that could threaten its independence."

"Neil M. Barofsky, who is overseeing the bailout, wrote in an April 7 memo that the department would ask the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel to sort out the issue.

"Barofsky is unsure why the dispute arose and is concerned that it could threaten the independence of his office, according a person with knowledge of the matter. The person said that Barofsky said the office's legal opinion is unnecessary.

"'The request to clarify the SIGTARP's complex legal status within the executive branch was sent to the Department of Justice only after Department of Treasury consulted with Mr. Barofsky who had no objection,' Andrew Williams, a Treasury spokesman, wrote in an e-mail, using the acronym for the watchdog agency's official title, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program."

The LA Times notes that the challenge to Barofsky's work came as "he had begun a sensitive investigation of the department's role in approving bonuses to executives of insurance giant AIG."

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

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In other federal news...

Cabinet and Staff News: The new U.S. Forest Service chief vows to quickly spend his stimulus money. Kathleen Sebelius gets interviewed by the New York Times. Hillary Rodham Clinton will have surgery to repair her fractured right elbow. President Obama’s choice of State Department chief of protocol for the State Department did not file tax returns for 2005 and 2006, errors she corrected last November.

Couple’s Capital Ties Said to Veil Spying for Cuba: A look at how Gwendolyn and Kendall Myers were able to spy for the Cuban government.

Lawmakers Balk As Administration Tries to Redefine Central Bank's Role: The Federal Reserve, which has been at the center of the government rescue of the financial system, is now on the hot seat.

TSA Applicant Says HIV Cost Him a Job: As a gay man, Michael Lamarre was encouraged by President Obama's decision to extend certain benefits to the same-sex partners of gay federal workers. But he says the security agency blocked his employment because he is HIV-positive.

Report: Guns Flow South Thanks to U.S.: A scathing new GAO report says the U.S. government hasn't done enough to stop the flow of illegal weapons, because agencies have failed to coordinate.

Enforcement Agencies Boost Cooperation on Drug Investigations: Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement leaders signed an interagency agreement to increase the number of ICE agents authorized to conduct drug-related investigations and to improve intelligence and information sharing.

FCC to Scrutinize Exclusive Wireless Contracts: The agency will launch a review of exclusive partnerships between cellphone makers and wireless service carriers, such as the one between Apple and AT&T for the iPhone, to see if the deals harm consumers and hamper competition.

By Ed O'Keefe  | June 19, 2009; 6:25 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Next: In Letter, Barofsky Explains Concerns


As a VA PAO who has served many years for various members of congress, the comment I would make relative to this story is that there should be considerations made to the Constitutionally mandated Seperation of Powers that is clearly being breached by the politicization of the IG forces across the country. How are they being politicized? Well, the fact is that the IG offices have access to agency information that the GAO (the designated go-to agency for congressional investigations) would have great difficulty acquiring (totally unfettered access to intra-agency email, is but one small example). For this reason, and because so many agency heads are keeping their IG at arms length, saavy congressional committee staff are finding more and more reason to utilize the IG for their oversight investigations. Through this process, staff are cultivating personal and professional relationships that have blurred the lines of IG responsibility and have infused an undue and inappropriate degree of politics into the investigative and oversight process. Compounding the IG-Congressional affiliation, Agency heads, suspicious of the IG motives and outside relationships, are often keeping these offices at "arms length." The net effect is that the IG finds it easier to work where they are appreciated and relationships with congressional staff are strengthened at the same time that their relationship with Agency staff are strained. My advice to Agency heads...keep your friends close and your IG Closer. Distance won't make the heart grow fonder.

Posted by: VA-PAO | June 19, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

It would seem that Mrs. Obama had something to do with this -- she was responsible for putting her chief of staff into the office of the Inspector General. Are we back to the Clinton years with "a two-for-one" presidency? This IG was investigating a friend of the president -- anything to do with the IGs firing? We have a president who is drunk with power and I am concerned about the direction in which my country is going.

Posted by: evelynadele | June 19, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Going forward we will likely see a lot more of the IGs being taken offline and replaced with insiders that can be controlled. Who wants the Sheriff looking over your shoulder when you are trying to slip one over on the people?

Posted by: brooksjc3 | June 19, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Sounds to me like the "Change" to believe in is there will be no change from Bush?

Posted by: bnw173 | June 19, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Have to hand it to Ed for staying with this story. Nice job.

Posted by: tomtildrum | June 19, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

The firing of Gerald Walpin and others who were looking into some financial irregularities of friends of Obama's is being called "an act of courage" by the administration. Hah!
There are other names for it such as "Bushlike!" or "an act of hutspah".

Posted by: afed27 | June 19, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

AS usual main stream media is giving the WH a pass. Bush had every legal right to fire U.S. Attorneys who workd at the pleasure of the president. A Congressional firestrom erupted. In this case, there was no such legal right, in fact, there was a requirement to give Congress 30 days notice and to provide detailed reasons for the firing. Neither were done.

Posted by: csanders1 | June 19, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Transparency and suppression of IGs do not go together. Action to squelch two IGs appears to be the beginning of an effort to deny the American people and the Congress proper internal controls and to thwart democracy. It is vital the Post stay with this story; it may be the beginnings of another Watergate!


Posted by: LELANDJORDAN5 | June 19, 2009 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Interestingly, the board meeting of May 20th, which is being cited now as the time when Walpin was disoriented, confused or adversarial (whatever), at least in part involved board members peppering Walpin about his St. Hope investigation and the possibility that Walpin was going to issue another statement about the situation in Sacramento. This date is critically important because it is the same day when the Sacramento Bee published the text of an explosive letter of resignation from former St. Hope director, Rick Maya, in which Maya alleged, among other things, that emails were deliberately erased from the St. Hope system while they were under federal subpoena. Walpin's statement undoubtedly was related to the serious matter of potential obstruction of justice during a federal investigation. By the way, the FBI, along with criminal prosecutors in the US Attorney's office are now actively investigating these charges. Please keep on this story.

Posted by: lorijab | June 19, 2009 11:13 PM | Report abuse

I am outraged that this has happened to one of our Inspector Generals. What is our country coming to? Doesn't anyone here at the Post see that a violation has occurred in firing an IG without the 30 day notice to Congress and a reasonable cause? Why is this story being presented without concern for the actions of our government? Too many decisions are being made by the President without checks and balances in order. I am considering going to another newsfeed if I don't see the Post more concerned about our Constitutional Issues and procedures over being friendly to a man who lied to gain public approval of his position to run for President. America wants to hear and read news that defend the people and our Constitutional rights! We don't want to hear about how a man in a position to help "we" the people has been fired as if it is a slight problem; "we" the people want to know where this money is actually being spent, penny for penny and we don't want to hear a bunch of cover-up language to protect the government. Our Constitution clearly was written for "the People," and not those who choose to run our government in secret. STOP SPENDING OUR MONEY AND LET WALPIN DO HIS JOB!!!!! That's what should be all over the press for ...We the People of the United States... Jefferson and Adams would be ashamed of this government and so should all of us. When the Declaration of Independence was penned by Thomas Jefferson, it was penned with honesty and integrity. Is there any one in our media that can stand and report with honesty and integrety today? Show me some concern and I will know that the Washington Post is worth standing on the First Amendment of Freedom of Speech. I vote for Walpin for standing up and challenging his agency bosses. We need more politically courageous people in government and in the media. Thank you for hearing my concerns.

Posted by: Pamy1 | June 20, 2009 4:17 AM | Report abuse

The firing of Gerald Walpin seems just about as courageous as Richard Nixon firing Archibald Cox.
This is not the kind of change that I voted for!

Posted by: MichaelJMurphy | June 20, 2009 7:27 AM | Report abuse

Lets not forget it was the Republican appointed US Attorney in Sacramento who first found fault with Mr. Walpins investigation of the St Hope Americorps program. The US Attorney found that Walpins report withheld significant inormation and that a significant portion of the grant was in fact "appropriatley expended". Apparently, Walpins's biased report was issued and publicized in the middle of an election and contained sanctions far beyond those supported by the nature of the "findings". Sounds to me like an act of of political interference, and an example of the very kind of inappropriate behavior he himself was charged with correcting. Reason enough to remove him.

Posted by: joanied1 | June 21, 2009 12:23 AM | Report abuse

For some odd reason I watched CNN's Lou Dobbs the other evening. His guest was the Inspector General of the Corporation for National and Coomunity Service(Gerald Walpin) who is being fired by the Obama administration for poor performance (unprepared for meetings and allegedly senility). Walpin is Caucasian and is 78 years old and claims his proposed removal is retaliation for his having investigated friends and supporters of the Democratic Party. Well certain Members of Congress are upset, making inquires and threatening to hold hearings. The firing is being delayed because the law states an administration must give Congress 30 days notice before firing an IG.

During the past several months, I have been told by congressional staffers that Congress can not get involved in "personnel matters" (i.e., terminations, re-assignments, etc). This afternoon I contacted a member of Senator Claire McCaskill's staff (the Senator is leading the charge about this proposed firing of Walpin) and I complained about the double standard-- when thousands of minority federal employees have been terminated during the past eight years for purportedly "poor performance" when in reality most of the terminations were purely in retaliation for the employee having been engaged in the EEO or for being whistleblowers activity. Yet, Congress has failed to prevent the execution of these terminations because they are deemed "personnel matters" and more importantly Congress has failed to hold hearings on this issue.

I would urge folks to call McCaskill's office next week and complain about this double standard.

As a resident of the fifth congressional district of Maryland, besides Senator Mikulski, our Steny Hoyer is also up for re-election in 2010. Although he has been very supportive of federal employees' pay issues (e.g., pay parity between the civilian sector and the military), he's been M.I.A on employment discrimination problems in the federal workplace. What good is pay parity if one has lost their job for engaging in the EEO process or for Whistleblowing? Between now and November 2010, we must get the message out about his [Hoyer's] failure to vigorously confront employment discrimination in the federal workplace and to publicly call for the firings of senior government officials who discriminate. If Members of Congress can get exorcized over the proposed firing of an Inspector General (i.e., Walpin) and the firings of U.S. Attorneys, they should be equally as exorcized over the firings of rank and file federal employees-- fired for exercising their rights. To date, Hoyer has refused to call for the DHS IG's removal.

Through our blogs and websites, 2010 can be a wake-up call for these politicians that take our votes for granted.

Posted by: PTaylor8336 | June 21, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Act of political courage? Being so blatant about covering up a crime and overt corruption is not courage -- it is an in-your-face statement that this administration will protect their own and try to ruin anyone who exposes their corruption.

Posted by: OliverinOrangeCA | June 21, 2009 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Where are Woodward and Bernstein (and Deep Throat) when we need them? Oh, I forgot, this is a Democratic administration!

Posted by: crofootski | June 23, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

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