Pentagon IG's Handling of Tenenbaum Raises Troubling Questions; Serious Conflicts of Interest Deserve Review,
The Project on Government Oversight has obtained a cache of documents from inside the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s Office that raises a variety of questions, troubling and even bizarre: Document Part A, Document Part B, Document Part C, Document Part D.
An ongoing major review of the Inspector General system undertaken by the Project On Government Oversight last fall strongly supports the absolute necessity for all IGs to have access to independent legal advice, free and clear of their agencies’ general counsels. At present the only one of the 30 Presidentially-appointed IGs who lacks such unencumbered legal counsel is the DOD Inspector General. Legislation to amend and improve the IG law (S.2324), as well as the Senate Armed Services authorization bill, both address this situation and would require the DOD IG to retain his own counsel answerable only to him.
The case of Army engineer Dr. David Tenenbaum vividly illustrates why it is intolerable for the DOD IG not to have his own counsel. In a recent letter to key members of Congress, POGO brought the Tenenbaum case to their attention.
In that letter, POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said: "We believe there will always be a basic conflict of interest between the agency general counsel, whose job is to protect and defend the interests of the agency, and that of the inspector general, who must expose waste, fraud, abuse and other misconduct committed within that agency."
Among the several questions which need to be raised:
- Did anti-Semitism in an Army engineering office prevent the development of armor that could have protected the U.S. military in the field?
- Has an internal Defense Department Inspector General investigation been hijacked and its conclusions altered because of internal conflicts of interest?
- Does the general counsel to the Inspector General at DOD actually consider the IG his client, or is he instead beholden to the General Counsel of the Department, who has the best interests of the Secretary and the Department in mind?
Tenenbaum is a civilian mechanical engineer with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in Warren , Michigan , where he created a program designed to upgrade the armor on the Army’s light armor vehicles, including Humvees. In the early 1990s, some of his colleagues and supervisors suspected that he was a spy for Israel . Tenenbaum was suspended, his security clearance revoked, and the FBI launched an investigation of him. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office closed the case without bringing any charges. Tenenbaum returned to TACOM, but not to his previous position. In fact, the Army not only restored Tenenbaum’s security clearance but it upgraded his clearance from secret to top secret. He then filed a religious discrimination lawsuit but the case was dismissed on the basis of “state secrets privilege”; the Army attorney who recommended the assertion of that privilege was Uldric L. Fiore, Jr.
In 2006, at the request of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), the Deputy IG for Investigations was asked to examine whether Tenenbaum had been treated unfairly and been discriminated against because of his religion. After an investigation, the finding reached was: “Mr. Tenenbaum experienced religious discrimination when his Judaism was weighed as a significant factor …”
The questionable conflicts of interest arose when the investigators’ findings had to be okayed by the IG’s general counsel. But lo and behold: the IG’s general counsel was one Uldric L. Fiore, Jr., who did not initially disclose his former involvement in the case. When it was discovered, he initially refused to recuse himself. Once he was recused, the legal “scrub” was assigned to his staff members.
The documents received by POGO show that those staff members have now apparently decided to ditch the investigators’ original finding of discrimination. An internal email obtained by POGO says that at an upcoming “Tenenbaum meeting,” one of those staff members “will be spotlighted for a progress account of his re-tooling of the report based upon Army input and changing the discrimination finding.” [Emphasis added]
POGO has asked Members of Congress to intervene to ensure that the original findings will not be altered. Further, POGO urges that the pending legislative provisions requiring the DOD OIG to have an independent general counsel will be passed and signed into law.
An earlier version of this press release misstated the role of Charles Beardall, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations of the Defense Department. POGO regrets the error.
Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.