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Eye Opener: House panel to investigate OMB

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Wednesday! A House committee has opened an investigation of the Office of Management and Budget after officials there allegedly told an inspector general that they'd "make life miserable" for him if he complained to Congress about his budget.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has also asked OMB Director Peter R. Orszag to look into the allegations, top House Democrats said Tuesday night.

In a letter to the committee, Patrick E. McFarland, inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management, wrote that OPM's budget office received a "not so veiled threat from OMB" against telling Congress of concerns about its budget.

A 2008 federal law allows inspectors general to inform Congress if they believe their proposed budgets would inhibit oversight duties. The law was designed to protect watchdogs from top agency officials that might cut watchdog budgets in retaliation for hard-hitting investigations.

"Such statements, if made, are entirely improper," Reps. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) wrote to Orszag. "They are a direct threat to the independence and integrity of inspectors general." Towns chairs the committee, and Lynch chairs a subcommittee on the federal workforce.

"The Office of Management and Budget respects the independent role that federal inspectors general play and takes issues of this sort very seriously," said OMB spokesman Thomas Gavin. "The concerns raised by the OPM inspector general about the possible actions of one OMB employee will be investigated thoroughly and quickly. If any improper interference has occurred, appropriate actions will be taken."

Town and Lynch's decision to quickly investigate McFarland's allegations is notable, but comes as Towns has faced criticism from Republican committee members that he didn't act more quickly to subpoena Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner regarding what he knew about the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's role in advising American International Group about limiting disclosures about billions of dollars in bonuses.

McFarland's allegations follow last summer's political firestorm surrounding President Obama's decision to fire Gerald Walpin, inspector general at the Corporation for National and Community Service and subsequent investigations led by Republican lawmakers. The Walpin affair came amid allegations of political interference at other agencies and the Library of Congress.

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Cabinet and Staff News: Vice President Biden to lead a major Iraq strategy meeting on Thursday. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton heads to Asia in an attempt to defuse tension and play down the fight over a Marine base in Japan. A profile of David Raskin, the federal prosecutor likely to lead the government's case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other terrorism suspects. Will Clinton and Obama adviser Tony Lake lead UNICEF? The IRS commissioner doesn't file his own taxes. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) says he will support Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT:
Empty Agriculture offices, including food safety, raise concerns: Despite several outbreaks of food-borne illness in 2009 and the appointment of an interagency panel on food safety, Obama has not nominated anyone for the top food-safety position at USDA.

CENSUS BUREAU:
Black coalition pushes for 'unified' 2010 Census tally: Civil rights organizations and advocates for the growing Caribbean and African immigrant population are setting aside differences and have formed the Unity Diaspora Coalition to push all blacks to fill out the federal forms.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT:
U.S. official promises expanded oversight in Afghanistan: The special inspector general there said his team is boosting its staffing as U.S. aid money into the country grows.

EPA:
Senator holds out option of vote on plan to block EPA: Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Tuesday left open the possibility that she would seek a vote next week on stopping the agency from going forward with regulations to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.

FCC:
Investors urge FCC to relax media-ownership rules: The rules should be loosened to allow more consolidation and attract capital to the industry, representatives of the investment community told the agency Tuesday at a workshop on how the agency might change the rules.

FDIC:
FDIC pushes to rein in executive pay at banks: Popular outrage over Wall Street paydays has failed to generate significant momentum in Washington to limit the amounts bankers are paid. Instead, regulators and politicians are battling over the more modest idea of pushing companies to tie pay to long-term performance.

GOVERNMENT WORK/LIFE:
A new labor alliance, with notable absences: Noticeably absent from the list are the two largest federal unions, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union. Their absence is linked to intensifying competition over airport security screeners, a major contingent both groups want to organize.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES:
Lack of Medicare chief is a strike against reform: The White House will offer plenty of reasons for the delay: the derailment of Tom Daschle’s candidacy as White House health adviser, the nitpicky nature of the Senate confirmation process, the likelihood that Republicans would use any nomination to slow health reform.

NIH:
D.C., NIH announce new initiative aimed at HIV/AIDS epidemic: A $26.4 million initiative will attack the city's epidemic with expanded testing and treatment to reduce the level of the virus in its victims and hopefully decrease their chances of spreading the disease.

TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENT:
Campaign to focus on distracted driving: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood described the campaign as “an army of people that will be traveling the country persuading people to put their cellphones away while they’re driving.”

Transportation IG finds gaps in contractor enforcement: The audit found serious gaps in the department's suspension and debarment procedures, including reviews dragging on for more than a year, unclear guidelines and poor management oversight.

TSA:
The fight against full-body scanners at airports: The government has promised more and better security at airports following the near-disaster on Christmas Day, but privacy advocates are not prepared to accept the use of full-body scanners as the routine screening system.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | January 13, 2010; 5:50 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener, Oversight  
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Comments

The glue that holds and bonds corruption in government together - Patrick E. McFarland, inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management.

Posted by: OracleConsult | January 13, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

An OMB threat, if such were made, to make life miserable for an IG is an invitation for the IG to complain to Congress. Why would OMB make such a threat? It sounds like a politics of self-defeat. Why would OMB do such a thing?

Posted by: HoldenProject | January 14, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

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