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Lessons Learned from Obama's Removal of CNCS Inspector General

On Friday, we blogged about the President's removal of Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) Inspector General Gerald Walpin. As I learn more about this case, I'm realizing there are a few "teachable moments."

There is no doubt that the optics look suspicious that an IG is removed after having investigated an Obama supporter, especially since the Administration provided minimal explanation for the removal. It's important to note that Congress permitted this lack of explanation. Last session, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) sponsored an important provision in the House version of the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 that would allow the President to remove IGs only for cause, specifically: (1) Permanent incapacity; (2) Inefficiency; (3) Neglect of duty; (4) Malfeasance; (5) Conviction of a felony or conduct involving moral turpitude; (6) Knowing violation of a law, rule, or regulation; (7) Gross mismanagement; (8) Gross waste of funds; or (9) Abuse of authority. When the bill passed, however, this provision lay on the cutting room floor. All that's required now is that the President provide both Chambers of Congress with an explanation no later than 30 days before dismissing or transferring an IG. The law doesn't say it has to be a good reason. To us, it looks like the President has fulfilled the letter of the law. So, if the Congress is annoyed because they think the President's reason for dismissal (that he no longer has "the fullest confidence" in Walpin) is not good enough, they only have themselves to blame. Teachable moment for Congress: Congress should fix the IG Act to include the "removal for cause" provision so that in the future, there are no doubts. (See POGO's 2008 IG report, recommendation #7.)

Nonetheless, I'm concerned that the White House made a hasty decision to remove Walpin before the Integrity Committee of the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE)--the council of all the IGs--had a chance to investigate the matter. In contrast, former NASA IG Robert "Moose" Cobb was forced to resign after the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency found ample evidence to remove him from office. Teachable moment for the White House: removing an IG is a big deal--if the Administration has a reason not to wait for the findings of the Integrity Committee, they should at least provide compelling evidence to justify an IG's removal.

As I dug further into the case, I was also struck by how Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California Lawrence Brown, who referred Walpin to the Integrity Committee of the CIGIE, doesn't understand IGs. Brown's allegation that Walpin had become aware of exculpatory evidence during his IG investigation but didn't include that evidence in his findings is absolutely something the Integrity Committee should look into. (When challenged on this fact, Walpin's explanation was thin at best.) However, Brown also included in his referral tasks that IGs actually should be doing, such as that Walpin communicated with the press; had, when referring the IG case to the U.S. Attorney's office for action, sent a letter expressing his view that the case should be pursued civilly or criminally; and had advocated to the Suspension and Debarment officer that the people and entity being investigated should be suspended from receiving federal funds. These are activities we want IGs to engage in, and are not in and of themselves inappropriate conduct. Certainly they are not cause to remove an IG, whereas withholding exculpatory evidence is. Teachable moment for federal agencies: The executive branch must become much better acquainted with what an IG should and should not be doing.

While I don't know the particulars of Walpin's actions in relation to his IG investigation, I will say that my own recent experience with him took a turn toward the bizarre when, during my presentation to the CIGIE in April about our report Inspectors General: Accountability is a Balancing Act, Walpin stood up and began berating me in an oddly defensive and unnecessarily hostile manner. Walpin was not the only IG in attendance to object to our conclusion that IGs generally do not work effectively with whistleblowers, but his manner and somewhat emotional outburst went way beyond normal professional disagreement. Everybody has a bad day now and then, but if the behavior he demonstrated that day is how he generally conducts himself, I can see why there was a growing number of people calling for his removal--including, according to a letter from White House Counsel Greg Craig to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), both the Chair (a Democrat) and the Vice-Chair (a Republican) of the CNCS who "fully supported" this action. However, without a full explanation from the Administration for the dismissal, we can't know whether the removal is justified or just a case of political finagling.

In the end, I believe Senator Grassley's concerns should be heeded, particularly because the IG had been investigating a political supporter of the President. Even though the law does not require the President to provide more than the notification he has given to Congress, I think he should do more than what is required and provide the Congress a specific rationale or cause for removing the CNCS IG.

By: Danielle Brian
Executive Director, POGO

danielle brian Ms. Brian's areas of expertise include: National Security, Government Oversight, Wasteful Defense Spending, Ethics, Open Government, Whistleblower Issues

Topics: Government Accountability

Related Content: Congressional Oversight, Watching the Watchdogs, Inspector General Oversight, Checks and Balances

Authors: Danielle Brian

Submitted by Truthful Citizen at: August 7, 2013
The law doesn't say it has to be a good reason. To us, it looks like the President has fulfilled the letter of the law. So, if the Congress is annoyed because they think the President's reason for dismissal (that he no longer has "the fullest confidence" in Walpin) is not good enough, they only have themselves to blame. Even if the law doesn't require a "good" reason, it does clearly require the actual, truthful reason. Providing a false reason doesn't satisfy the statute, because that would constitute withholding the reason. To comply with the law, Obama should have announced that he fired Walpin because he wanted to protect a political crony, and wanted to be able to continue to loot the Treasury through Americorps. Saying that he lost confidence in Walpin was false -- in fact, he had all too much confidence that Walpin would do exactly what he was appointed to do.
Submitted by Jim at: August 7, 2013
I worked for an IG. They are political appointees who usually have some "unique" connection to the administration. Several IGs have lost support from the White House after making critical comments about a policy or decision. The IG serves both the Executive and Legislative branches, but the reality is, the Executive Branch runs the show. "The IG is an independent entity." Nonsense. Most are silenced by the head of the agency. Few IGs have survived in the long term. One survivor is Mr. Glenn Fine, DOJ/IG. Direct, honest and survivor. One who died on the vine: Clark Ervin, the first DHS/IG. Smart, straight forward individual, critical of Sec. Ridge and the administration. He lost support from the White House and in his place, an individual with ties to then VP Cheney. I don't know Mr. Walpin, but in time the whole story will come out. Politics at its best.
Submitted by Scott at: August 7, 2013
Power corrupts! This is an example of a person believing that he or she is above the law. Many in our Judicial Branch, and some in the IGs office, think this way. Congress has got to put a stop to it. At the State level, it is even worse. Life becomes a game for someone to beat.
Submitted by Matt at: August 7, 2013
The existing law says http://pogoarchives.org/m/go/ig/hr-928.pdf SEC. 3. REMOVAL OF INSPECTORS GENERAL. (a) Establishments.--Section 3(b) of the Inspector General Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C. App.) is amended by striking the second sentence and inserting ``If an Inspector General is removed from office or is transferred to another position or location within an establishment, the President shall communicate in writing the reasons for any such removal or transfer to both Houses of Congress, not later than 30 days before the removal or transfer. Nothing in this subsection shall prohibit a personnel action otherwise authorized by law, other than transfer or removal.''. (b) Designated Federal Entities.--Section 8G(e) of the Inspector General Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C. App.) is amended by striking ``shall promptly communicate in writing the reasons for any such removal or transfer to both Houses of the Congress.'' and inserting ``shall communicate in writing the reasons for any such removal or transfer to both Houses of Congress, not later than 30 days before the removal or transfer. Nothing in this subsection shall prohibit a personnel action otherwise authorized by law, other than transfer or removal.''. Obama obviously read the new part of the law stating that he no longer needed to "promptly communicate in writing the reasons" yet we are supposed to believe he didn't intentionally know that he need to give 30 days notice before doing what he did when it is in the very next sentence? This is unbelievable. Obama has done too much of this. He ISN'T following the "letter of the law" as you state. He is followed the parts of it he likes.

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