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