Grassley Complains of Library of Congress Interference
Updated 2:25 p.m. ET
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) charged today that top officials at the Library of Congress have interfered with investigations conducted by its independent watchdogs and have frequently admonished investigators for the tone and focus of their investigations.
"Your office's attempts to influence and/or control the OIG appear to be in direct contravention of the principles underlying the creation of the Inspectors General," Grassley wrote in a sharply worded letter delivered today to Librarian of the United States James H. Billington. "Independence is the hallmark of the Inspectors General throughout the country."
In response, Library of Congress spokesman Matt Raymond said Billington will review the letter and respond in full. He also noted that Billington requested the Library's first-ever audit and called for the establishment of an independent IG.
"There are a number of serious factual errors in the events as stated
in the letter that we will correct," Raymond said, but would not elaborate.
Aides to the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee are looking into similar cases of interference with inspector general investigations at other government agencies, according to a spokeswoman for Grassley.
Last year, the Library of Congress Office of Inspector General executed 13 federal search warrants and served 16 IG subpoenas. The IG also obtained three federal grand jury subpoenas that led to the prosecution of six individuals. Investigations have focused on employees' activities involving child pornography possession, identity theft and embezzlement. The OIG employs 18 full- and part-time investigators and auditors.
Grassley's letter includes e-mails sent Aug. 8, 2008 by Library Chief Operating Officer Jo Ann Jenkins to Inspector General Karl Schornagel that criticize the tone and focus of a Justice Department press release regarding the successful criminal investigation of a former employee's possession of child pornography.
Not realizing that the release was written by Justice Department officials, Jenkins asked Schornagel "Why does the IG feel it necessary to get publicity on this," stating later that "This does nothing buy [sic] highlight the issue more in the press." In a reply, Schornagel reminded Jenkins that his office had nothing to do with the release since it was authored by the Justice Department.
In a separate November 2007 e-mail, Jenkins wrote that the tone of the IG's semiannual report to Congress was "the most negative" she had ever seen and then provided suggested language to soften its tone.
But Schornagel and his staff are most concerned that Congress revoked its firearms privileges with passage of the 2009 omnibus spending bill. Library officials and House appropriators supported the move, stating that the Library's OIG did not need armed law enforcement powers and could instead rely on Library of Congress Police or Capitol Police. The issue is up for reconsideration next week when the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch meets to consider next year's budget requests.
Grassley did not address the firearm issue directly in his letter, but reminded Billington that "Like any federal agency, the OIG has a responsibility to maintain adequate oversight of the agency funding along with its personnel, which requires independent and unobstructed criminal and civil investigations, evaluations and audits."
Schornagel says his agents cannot conduct effective investigations without firearms.
"The average person would have no idea that these things happen at the Library of Congress," he said in an interview. "But these things happen here as they do at other federal agencies and there’s fraud, waste and abuse."
Most concerning, Schornagel said the loss of firearm protection has jeopardized six other open investigations involving child pornography possession, computer crimes, identity theft and procurement fraud.
“Too often, inspectors general don’t have the independence they need to hold agencies accountable," Grassley said in a separate statement. "This isn’t the only case where agency leaders are trying to sabotage an inspector general’s work. I’m not going to stop my effort to empower inspectors general and also keep the pressure on them to go after mismanagement and abuse.”
The senator's Finance Committee staff is investigating two other allegations of interference with OIG investigations at executive branch agencies, according to Grassley spokeswoman Jill Kozeny, who could only say that the investigations are ongoing.
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