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Third Case of Watchdog Interference Alleged

By Ed O'Keefe

Top officials at the International Trade Commission have removed the agency's inspector general amid a new investigation by Sen. Charles E. Grassley into allegations that an employee took files in the possession of the watchdog.

Charles Grassley
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa)

The Iowa Republican sent a letter yesterday (pdf) to ITC Chairwoman Shara L. Aranoff in regards to the incident that occurred in mid-March. Grassley quotes from the inspector general's semi-annual report to Congress, which states that "in the course of conducting an investigation regarding contractor activities, certain procurement files were removed forcibly from the possession of the Inspector General by a Commission employee.”

"It is difficult to understand why the ITC would not have taken action to ensure that the ITC Inspector General had the information necessary to do the job," Grassley wrote, asking that he receive all relevant information by mid-July.

Within hours of receiving Grassley's letter, Aranoff -- a former Democratic staffer for the Senate Finance Committee appointed to her position by President George W. Bush in 2005 -- informed ITC Acting Inspector General Judith Gwynn that the agency will not renew her current contract when it expires in early July.

Gwynn is a career ITC employee who previously held positions with the IG's office and the budget office. Agency officials appointed her acting IG in January 2008 and have extended three temporary six-month contracts to her since then. Her current agreement expires next month. Though Aranoff terminated her contract as IG, Gwynn can apply for another position at the agency if she chooses to do so, because she is a career employee.

Grassley wants ITC to clarify Gwynn's unique contractual arrangements.

"I am unaware of any other agency Inspector General that serves under such a constraint and am curious to learn what statutory authority gives the ITC the ability to make a limited term appointment," Grassley wrote.

Under law, ITC's IG is classified as a "non-independent" office (or what folks in the IG community call a "Section 8G," in reference to its authorizing section in the original Inspector General Act). This means the watchdog has less independence and flexibility than "independent" investigators at other agencies.

ITC spokeswoman Peg O'Laughlin said the agency has received Grassley's letter and will respond soon. She could only say that Gwynn's current employment status expires next month. The agency is in the process of recruiting a new, permanent IG, O'Laughlin said.

Grassley's latest inquiry follows recent requests for information regarding President Obama's dismissal of the inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service and reports of possible interference with IG investigations at the Library of Congress.

By Ed O'Keefe  | June 17, 2009; 12:39 PM ET
Categories:  Oversight  
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I have a question for U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley whatever happened to the Congressional hearings on "Serious Mismanagement and Misconduct in the Treasury Department, Customs Sevice, and other Federal Agencies and the Adequacy of Efforts to Hold Agency Officials Accountable" held on March 26, 27 and April 1, 1992. The Customs managers mentioned got promoted and the non-supervisors who testified as witnesses were fired.

A Customs special agent was killed on a car accident. The driver, another Customs agent had an extensive record of careless driving incidents. Senator Grassley demanded a serious of records from Customs regarding this incident BUT NOTHING happened.

The first ICE SAC for Arizona allegedly committed suicide, and an obscure and very small police department conducted a preliminary investigation but suddenly they were told that Customs was going to conduct the investigation.

What I see here lots of lip service by our US Congress people. After 2004, there has been six or seven ICE Arizona SACs appointed but for some reason they leave?

Second question for Sen. Grassley: why you are not demanding answers from federal agencies who are suspending employees for minor human error or mistake, without pay while an investigation is conducted?

Why in Arizona, employees who report criminal or gross misconduct against management or co-workers are being investigated by the ICE'OPR, instead of investigating the real culprits?

Posted by: doctormiguel | June 18, 2009 9:16 AM | Report abuse

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