In April 2008, the Corporation for National and Community Service asked its then-Inspector General Gerald Walpin to investigate reports that former NBA star and President Obama supporter Kevin Johnson had misappropriated portions of an AmeriCorps grant to the St. HOPE Academy for personal and political use.
After completing his investigation, Walpin concluded the following month that Johnson used federal tax dollars intended for tutoring elementary and high school students to instead recruit students for personal and political activities, including “driving him to personal appointments, washing his car, and running personal errands.” In April 2009, St. HOPE Academy reached a $423,836 agreement with the federal government to settle the charges. Johnson agreed to pay $72,836 of that total from his personal resources.
This should have been a huge victory for Walpin, government accountability and transparency, but Obama fired Walpin in June 2009. Walpin’s termination proved to be the opening shot in Obama’s war on IGs across the federal government. Today, 12 of the 73 statutory IG spots are vacant, according to the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group that tracks government waste and fraud. And the vacancies are not just at small agencies like CNCS, either. The State Department (think Keystone XL pipeline), the Interior Department (think BP oil spill), the Justice Department (think Operation Fast and Furious), and the Department of Homeland Security (think airport pat-downs), all are without IGs. It has been 365 days since DHS had an IG. The Department of Justice hasn’t had an IG for 395 days. And Obama has not even bothered to nominate people for either the State (1,503 days) or Interior (1,099 days) IG jobs.
The IG positions — appointed by the president and confirmed by Congress — were created during the Carter administration. Since then, the men and women appointed to the jobs have been the taxpayers’ first line of defense against waste and fraud in the federal government. Over the years, IGs have exposed hundreds of billions of misspent tax dollars, sent dozens of corrupt federal employees and contractors to jail, and forced countless reforms in the day-to-day management of the government. According to the Government Accountability Office, every dollar invested in IGs saves taxpayers $18 in return.
There is no mystery in Obama’s aversion to independent IGs. Here are just some of the headlines other IGs produced last year: “Green jobs training program falls short, should return funds,” New York Times, Oct. 5, 2011; “Energy Department couldn’t manage stimulus money, watchdog says,” Washington Post, Nov. 2, 2011; and “Treasury probes $528m loan to bankrupt solar firm,” USA Today, Sept. 15, 2011. Back in 2008, candidate Obama extolled transparency in government. But now IGs investigating his record for the past three years could hurt his re-election efforts. What a contrast to President Reagan, who, years before he sought a second term, appointed “junkyard dogs” as IGs and promised to back them up no matter the consequences. Shouldn’t Obama do the same today?