Third Inspector General Controversy Emerges

Jun 19, 2009 8:15am

As the Obama administration faces questions about the president's firing of the Corporation for National and Community Service Inspector General last week, and about the Treasury Department challenging the independence of the Special Inspector General dedicated to federal bailout dollars for the financial bailout money, a third inspector general controversy has emerged.

This week Judith Gwynn, the Inspector General for the International Trade Commission, was told that her contract would not be renewed.

The news was delivered to Gwynn within three hours of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sending the chair of the ITC a letter asking about a March 5 incident when, according to Gwynn's April 2009 Semiannual Report to Congress, "in the course of conducting an investigation regarding contractor activities, certain procurement files were removed forcibly from the possession of the Inspector General by a Commission employee.”

Grassley was outraged to learn that the ITC environment was one where the Inspector General could be treated so disdainfully.

"I was disappointed to learn that, according to the report, despite being notified of this situation the ITC failed to ensure that the files were immediately returned intact and unaltered," Grassley wrote to ITC Chair Shara L. Aranoff, according to a copy of the letter obtained by ABC News. "The ability of Inspectors General to secure agency records subject to audit or investigation is essential to ensure the integrity and reliability of their work on behalf of Congress and the American People."

This Inspector General controversy is quite different from the other two, however, in its apparent lack of connection to President Obama or his administration. The White House does not appoint the inspector general of the ITC. Rather, that power is held by Aranoff, a former Democratic Senate staffer who was appointed to the position by President Bush. And unlike in the other two cases, there is no evidence that the White House or Obama administration had any issue with Gwynn or the work she was doing.

On Tuesday, after Grassley's staff learned of the March 5 incident, the senator wrote to Aranoff. Hours later, Gwynn was told that her six-month contract would not be renewed, and that she would be returned to the ITC general staff.

Grassley also found the notion that the ITC retained its inspectors general on six-month contracts peculiar — and potentially undermining of Gwynn's authority.

"I am unaware of any other agency Inspector General that serves under such a constraint and am curious to learn what statutory authority gives the ITC the ability to make a limited term appointment," he wrote. Grassley asked Aranoff to answer a number of questions surrounding the March incident as well as the integrity of the inspector general's office.

Aranoff's transfer of Gwynn without giving Congress 30-days notice appears to violate the same law requiring congressional notification that Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the author of the law, said that President Obama may have violated in his termination of CNCS Inspector General Gerald Walpin last week.

In further developments on the Walpin story, the Washington Examiner's Byron York reports that the White house attorney who fired Walpin, Norm Eisen, told staffers for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.,  the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, called firing Walpin an act of "political courage," according to House Republican aides.

And Politico's Josh Gerstein looks into the White House allegations that at a May 20 meeting with the CNCS board Walpin appeared “confused, disoriented [and] unable to answer questions."

“It was a very emotionally draining meeting for me and the rest of the board members,” a panel member said. “There were several periods of time where there were one- to two-minute pauses where he clearly was confused and was not able to respond to questions and was just going through his notes…..It was painful.”

Walpin said "they are exaggerating,” and blamed the appearance that he seemed confused on the fact that his "notes had somehow become disorganized. And I was not feeling well.”  The 77-year-old said the White House used "code words for senility. It’s a kind of discrimination when directed at someone who is older than most…I’m not senile. I’m not disoriented. It’s an absolute lie.”

– jpt

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