Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gov't Watchdogs Under Attack From Bosses

WASHINGTON - The inspectors general entrusted to unearth waste, fraud and abuse in federal agencies are increasingly under attack, as top government officials they scrutinize try to erode the watchdogs' independence and authority.

During 2006, several inspectors general felt the wrath of government bosses or their supporters in Congress after investigations cited agencies for poor performance, excessive spending or wasted money.

For instance:

-The top official of the government's property and supply agency compared its inspector general to a terrorist, hoping to chill audits of General Services Administration regional offices and private businesses.

-Directors of the government's legal aid program discussed firing their inspector general, who investigated how top officials lavishly spent tax dollars for limousine services, ritzy hotels and $14 "Death by Chocolate" desserts.

-Administration-friendly Republicans in Congress tried to do away with the special inspector general for Iraq, who repeatedly exposed examples of administration waste that cost billions of dollars. Among the contractors criticized was Halliburton Corp., once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

-The Pentagon has been making its inspector general use lawyers picked by the defense secretary instead of independently hired attorneys.

"It's hard to believe that the government is serious about policing itself when it's whacking the people who are actually minding the store," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project On Government Oversight, a nonpartisan group that tracks government waste and fraud. "These people are our security officers who help guard tens of billions of dollars. It's ridiculous to prevent them from doing their jobs."

Sean Kevelighan, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the Bush administration counts on "independent and unbiased views" of the watchdogs and is willing to intervene in any disputes.

"If and when there are times where intervention is necessary, the administration will do so to ensure all the parties are educated about one another's roles and the importance of maintaining a productive relationship - and a healthy respect for the responsibilities of all involved," he added.

When GSA Inspector General Brian Miller's team intensively audited the agency's regional offices, he ran into strong resistance from agency administrator Lurita Doan.

A business owner, Doan suggested some auditing functions be taken away from the watchdog and given to small businesses.

"There are two kinds of terrorism in the U.S.: the external kind and internally, the IGs have terrorized the regional administrators," she told Miller and his staff on Aug. 18.

The quotes are from a participant's meeting notes obtained by The Associated Press. Miller aide Robert Samuels attended the meeting and confirmed the comments, as did another attendee.......

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