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Eye Opener: The IG Saga Continues...

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Monday! Sen. Charles E. Grassley's recent inquiries into possible interference with the investigations of government watchdogs spread from the bookshelves to the rails, as he asked the new acting inspector general of Amtrak on late Friday to follow through on a request to provide information about possible interference by the rail agency in the oversight work of independent investigators.

Writing to Deputy Inspector General E. Bret Coulson, the Iowa Republican expressed concern with allegations of "repeated and continuous interference from the agency," including "third parties being told to first send documents under subpoena by the inspector general to Amtrak for review, and the inspector general being chastised for communicating directly with congressional appropriations and authorizing committees."

The letter to Coulson was meant as a followup to requests made of Fred Weiderhold Jr., who retired as Amtrak IG last week. Grassley wants all related information to be preserved and shared with his office.

The Amtrak IG is not a presidential appointee, unlike some of the other inspectors Grassley has inquired about in recent weeks. A recap of Grassley's efforts:

1.) He inquires in early June about possible interference at the Library of Congress, including allegations that top officials regularly admonished the IG staff for the tone and focus of their investigations.

2.) President Obama fires Gerald Walpin, inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service, as Grassley's office pursues similar allegations there. The White House later provides a detailed explanation of the dismissal, and Congressional efforts to learn more about the situation continue.

3.) Officials at the International Trade Commission remove their inspector general after Grassley inquires about a March incident where an employee allegedly took files in the possession of the IG.

4.) Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, raises concerns with Grassley and other lawmakers that a potential Justice Department ruling on his office's relationship with the Treasury Department is unnecessary and could have a serious impact on its independence. The timing of Barofsky's concerns are suspect, because they occurred as his office was attempting to audit last year's big bonuses to AIG executives. “It is extremely troubling that in the midst of SIGTARP’s investigation into bonuses received by AIG executives, the Treasury Department would seek to exert control over this independent overseer," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in backing up Barofsky's concerns.

Remember that Walpin and Barofsky are the only presidentially-appointed inspectors general involved in this situation.

Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) wrote to Obama late Friday thanking his administration for providing information on the Walpin firing and all-but cleared the administration of any wrongdoing or formal hearings on the matter.

Still, Grassley's inquiries suggest a pattern of interference with watchdog investigations, despite laws that clearly state that inspectors have the mandate to act independently.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Cabinet and Staff News: Education Secretary Arne Duncan will warn public charter school advocates today that low-quality institutions are giving their movement a black eye. Hillary Rodham Clinton has successful surgery to repair her right elbow. Vice President Biden, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke visit Michigan and Ohio today and tomorrow to discuss energy efficiency and manufacturing. HUD's Shaun Donovan visits New Orleans today. Robert Gates talked up social media last week at the Pentagon. Obama's FCC chief pick backs broadband stimulus efforts and opposes the fairness doctrine. A new study finds that the demographics between the Bush and Obama administrations don't differ all that much.

In other federal news...

Recovery's Missing Ingredient: New Jobs: The unemployment rate is projected to continue rising for another year before topping out in double digits, despite the Obama administration's message of optimism about the economic outlook.

At V.A. Hospital, a Rogue Cancer Unit: The story of how a government surgeon kept re-writing surgical plans to avoid discipline for botching medical procedures.

VA Moves Texas Brain Laboratory After Years Pass Without Testing: The decision follows a two-year battle between the department and the former director of the Brain Injury and Recovery Laboratory, who has accused his superiors of fraud, mismanagement and wasting taxpayer money.

Obama Administration Looks to Colleges for Future Spies: To the list of collegiate types -- nerds, jocks, Greeks -- add one more: spies in training. The government is hoping they'll be hard to spot.

Bill Boosts Congressional Oversight of Covert Spy Programs: Criticized for failing to challenge the intelligence operations of the Bush administration, key lawmakers have endorsed a bill that would force the president to make fuller disclosures.

Delay in Releasing CIA Report Is Sought: The department needs a week to complete its review of a 2004 CIA inspector general's report before releasing it in redacted form to civil liberties advocates.

Environmentalists Baffled by Obama's Strategy: The administration is defending in court environmental measures that the president once vowed to roll back. Officials say it is part of a long-term plan, but critics see it as backpedaling.

Census will Count Married Gay Couples: This reverses an earlier decision made under the Bush administration.

TVA Inspector General Says Agency Misled on Ash Spill: It released a critical audit last week on the federal company's response to last December's disaster at its Kingston power plant in eastern Tennessee's Roane County.

By Ed O'Keefe  | June 22, 2009; 6:03 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener, Oversight  
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Next: United They Serve


What about the problems and crappy morale at NASA's IG office.
Crummy leadership and lots of rumors there.

Posted by: sheepherder | June 22, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Dear Ed, This is great investigative work, and a thrill to see, just when I was beginning to lose faith in our media reporting system.

Please keep up the great work.

Posted by: Daezy | June 22, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

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