Watchdog: Accountability

Obama invites whistleblower-squashing appointee under investigation to White House

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What does it say when someone who resigns under the cloud of a congressional investigation one week gets to speak at the White House the next week?

As director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, George H. Cohen presided over massive waste, irregular contracting and questionable spending on luxuries for employees.

When an accountant blew the whistle on the agency’s spending--which including buying artwork created by Cohen’s wife--Cohen, instead of rectifying the situation, forced the accountant to retract her complaint.

These problems were first reported earlier this year by the Washington Examiner's Just Sign Here series, which was based on thousands of pages of internal emails and bank records.

But far from holding him accountable, President Obama, who appointed Cohen in 2009, is honoring him with an invitation to speak Dec. 5 at the White House.

Just Sign Here

Federal Workers Max Out at Taxpayer Expense

A five-part series by the Washington Examiner watchdog team
Tuesday: Bureaucrats at tiny agency buy legions of luxuries with purchase cards
Wednesday: Reckless FMCS spending goes straight to the top
Thursday: FMCS heads forced whistleblower to retract fraud complaint
Friday: Federal officials cede authority to outsiders who write own contracts
Monday: FMCS fired wounded warrior whistleblower after ICU stay
Data: FMCS salaries and bonuses
View the whole series

Got tips?

Do you know more about what's going on at the FMCS -- or any other federal agency? Contact Luke Rosiak at lrosiak@washingtonexaminer.com.

Cohen and Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez are the featured speakers at a panel at the White House called “Partnerships that Work -- Labor and Management Partnerships.”

A White House spokesman did not respond to an Examiner request for comment or say whether it asked Cohen to resign.

FMCS is a 230-person agency with a $50 million budget that provides non-binding, voluntary mediation between unions and managers from both companies and government agencies.

Cohen came to the agency with a decidedly pro-labor record and a pension from the United Steelworkers of America, according to financial disclosures.

The Center for Union Facts, a nonprofit that is critical of labor unions, said his appointment was “in keeping with the Obama Administration’s practice of rewarding its labor union supporters with pro-labor nominees to key labor posts.”

On Nov. 14, Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, blasted Cohen in a six-page letter informing him that the agency was the target of a congressional investigation. The letter says it was spurred by the Examiner's reporting.

On Nov. 26, Cohen quietly informed employees that he had notified Obama in a letter that he will resign at the end of the year.

The Examiner series reported that Cohen used federal funds to buy his wife's artwork, a $1,300 chair and $200 coasters.

It also revealed that the agency paid $85,000 to the phantom company of a just-retired official for no apparent services; spent $50,000 on frames to give its employees awards; and billed the government $500 for single USB thumb drives, $30 for a "pencil pouch," and $1,000 for a big-screen television for the in-house gym.

Two employees billed private storage spaces filled with personal belongings, at a cost of the better part of $100,000, to the government, even after they retired. Another billed for a $53,000 car.

An information technology staffer who lives in West Virginia and rarely comes into the office spent lavishly on high-end electronics delivered to employees' homes, some of which could not be located.

Federal employees were charging cell phones for their whole families and cable TV at not just their homes, but their vacation homes, to the government.

When employees objected, Cohen forced one to write a letter to the General Services Administration retracting her complaint; managers had another walked out by armed guards and fired another, a disabled veteran, for missing a day of work while she lay in an intensive care unit.

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