JUNE 12, 2009
A government inspector general who has exposed widespread waste in taxpayer-financed community service groups has been fired by Barack Obama after finding that one of the president’s political supporters, a California mayor, misused federal funds.
In violation of a law established to keep the watchdogs independent and free of political pressure or interference, Obama has refused to explain why he got rid of the inspector general charged with investigating the government’s so-called national service programs.
Among them is AmeriCorps which annually receives millions of federal dollars to conquer everything from illiteracy to affordable housing and the environment. Much of the work is done through local nonprofits which receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants from the agency.
One of the local charities (St. HOPE Academy) that has benefitted tremendously from the arrangement is based in Sacramento and is operated by a powerful Obama ally who happens to be the city’s mayor. AmeriCorps’ inspector general found that Mayor Kevin Johnson’s nonprofit education group misused nearly a $1 million in federal grants.
The inspector general determined that Johnson, a former professional basketball player, illegally used the money to pay volunteers for political activities, run personal errands and even wash his car. The mayor, who has acknowledged that there “may have been administrative errors,” reached a settlement with federal prosecutors to repay half of the money.
Earlier this month the fired inspector general caught a multi million-dollar fraud scheme in AmeriCorps most expensive program, a teaching fellow project at the City University of New York. Walpin found that AmeriCorps’ funding duplicated existing programs and that the government should recover up to $75 million that it has spent on the project in the past six years.
This indicates that Walpin was doing his job—rooting out government fraud, waste and abuse—quite efficiently. At least one lawmaker is demanding that the president explain the abrupt firing of a watchdog that has indentified millions of dollars in wasted taxpayer funds.
In a letter to Obama, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley urges the president to review a law—cosponsored by both men—which requires cause for removing an inspector general. The letter and spirit of the law intended to safeguard the independence of inspector generals from the heavy hand of the executive branch may have been circumvented, according to the veteran Republican.
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