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Administration: Watchdogs Gone Wild

Yesterday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote to State Department Inspector General (IG) Howard Krongard to highlight allegations from seven employees that the IG "has repeatedly interfered with on-going investigations to protect the State Department and the White House from political embarrassment."

SEPTEMBER 19, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
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ADMINISTRATION

Watchdogs Gone Wild

The Inspector General Act of 1978 states Inspectors General (IG) are appointed within the federal government to “conduct, supervise, and coordinate audit and investigations” for “the purpose of preventing and detecting fraud and abuse.” Yesterday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote to State Department Inspector General (IG) Howard Krongard to highlight allegations from seven employees that the IG “has repeatedly interfered with on-going investigations to protect the State Department and the White House from political embarrassment.” In an extensive letter, Waxman detailed how Krongard helped exonerate a contractor accused of labor trafficking in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, interfered with incriminating investigations, and censored reports to avoid disclosure to Congress. Unfortunately, Krongard’s case has become representative of the supposed “watchdogs” in the Bush administration. As Beth Daley of the Project on Government Oversight observed, “If they’re breaking all the rules they’re supposed to be enforcing, then obviously we’ve got a problem.” Legislation offered by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is making its way through Congress to strengthen IG offices and protect against corruption.

RAMPANT WASTE AND DODGING ACCOUNTABILITY:
Whistleblowers within the U.S. Postal Service in 2003 found that former IG Karla Corcoran presided over millions of dollars spent for “corporate retreats, thousands to make videos of employees dancing, building gingerbread houses, and other activities many employees found humiliating.” In June, Commerce Department IG Johnnie Frazier resigned amidst “allegations ranging from fraud and abuse” to “egregious violations” of the federal law that protects whistle-blowers, demoting two employees who investigated his spending practices. Earlier this year, acting Environmental Protection Agency IG Bill Roderick was investigated by a congressional committee for allegedly launching a plan in June 2006 to cut 60 investigators and auditors from his staff and “give himself a $15,000 raise.”  

PROVIDING COVER FOR ALLIES: As a former Pentagon IG, Joseph Schmitz “refused congressional entreaties to declassify a report detailing how the administration was providing inadequate training and protective gear to troops in the event of a bio-chemical attack.” Former Health and Human Services IG Janet Rehnquist — daughter of former Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist — resigned in 2003 while the target of “three federal investigations,” including one from the Government Accountability Office as to whether Rehnquist delayed an audit of Florida’s pension fund just as Gov. Jeb Bush (R) faced a “tight race for re-election.” Rehnquist had also been accused of “using her office for personal gain and leading a bloodletting of senior staffers who disagreed with her methods.” Furthermore, an April 2007 report by the Integrity Committee found that NASA IG Robert Cobb “routinely tipped off department officials to internal investigations and quashed a report related to the Columbia shuttle explosion to avoid embarrassing the agency.” Cobb currently remains the NASA IG.

INDEPENDENCE NEEDED: While IG abuse is present, many watchdogs still play an exemplary role in providing a source of accountability within the federal government. Justice Department IG Glenn Fine recently uncovered excessive spending at Department events, including $13,000 spent on “cookies and brownies” for over 1,500 people at a conference. Fine has also vowed to investigate outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s misleading testimony on the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the improper hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys. Additionally, Fine looked into whether Monica Goodling’s “uncomfortable” conversation with Gonzales prior to testifying to Congress constituted obstruction of justice. Recently, the CIA IG revealed that former Director George Tenet “failed to marshal sufficient resources and provide the strategic planning” prior to 9/11. Despite being a former Bush campaign aide, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, has “repeatedly embarrassed the Bush administration” for its reconstruction efforts in Iraq and has become a leading figure in exposing fraud and corruption. His efforts at restoring accountability have been so successful that he has made himself a target of the administration and congressional conservatives.

UNDER THE RADAR

CONGRESS — REID PUSHES FIRM IRAQ REDEPLOYMENT DEADLINE: Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicated that he would move away from making troop withdrawal a “goal” and push instead for a firm redeployment deadline, after efforts during the last few weeks to compromise with conservative leaders failed. A recent New York Times/CBS poll showed that the vast majority of Americans — 78 percent — favor withdrawing at least some troops from Iraq, and other polls show that the majority of Americans favor a firm withdrawal deadline. The Senate is set to consider at least two amendments dealing with the future strategy in Iraq, including a “dwell time” amendment sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA). The amendment would require soldiers to receive at least as many months of rest time between deployments as they served in Iraq. “After four and a half years of an occupation in Iraq, our military people are getting burned out,” Webb explained. Though the amendment enjoys bipartisan support, coming within four votes of passing when introduced in July, some conservatives remain intractable. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said the amendment was unconstitutional, and that it “would be catastrophic.” Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who had supported the bill in July, said yesterday that he was “reconsidering his position.” Call your senators and urge them to support Webb’s pro-troop amendment.

IRAQ — U.S. SUSPENDS ‘LAND TRAVEL’ OUTSIDE THE GREEN ZONE FOR CIVILIAN AND DIPLOMATIC OFFICIALS: Yesterday, the Unites States “suspended all land travel by U.S. diplomats and other civilian officials throughout Iraq, except in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.” The move comes days after Blackwater USA, a private security firm often hired to protect civilian officials, was “allegedly involved in the fatal shooting of civilians during an attack on a State Department motorcade.” “The embassy has suspended official U.S. government civilian ground movements outside the International Zone (IZ) and throughout Iraq,” said a notice released by the State Department. “This suspension is in effect in order to assess mission security and procedures, as well as a possible increased threat to personnel traveling with security details outside the International Zone.” “The decision effectively halted Blackwater’s operations because a main task of the company is to escort diplomats, including Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker,” reports the Washington Post today. “Embassy officials did not say whether they were seeking a replacement security company, but any extended suspension of travel could impair diplomats’ work in Iraq, limiting their scope of direct influence to the walled Green Zone.”

ELECTORAL JUSTICE — CONSERVATIVE FILIBUSTER BLOCKS DC VOTING RIGHTS BILL: Yesterday, a majority of senators voted to give Washington, DC residents a full member of Congress for the first time in its 206-year-history. Yet the 52-42 vote was not enough to overcome Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) filibuster. The bill, which was passed by the House on April 19, would also have granted a fourth representative to Utah. “It’s time to end the injustice, the national embarrassment that citizens of this great capital city don’t have voting representation in Congress,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), a co-sponsor of the bill, before yesterday’s vote. The Senate’s actions marked the first time the full chamber “had considered the D.C. voting rights issue since 1978, when it passed a constitutional amendment that would have given the city voting representatives in the House and Senate. The amendment died seven years later after getting approval from only 16 of the 38 states required for ratification.” Ilir Zherka of DC vote, an organization that supports DC residents’ right to representation, stated, “For the first time in 30 years, we secured the vote of a strong majority of Senators in favor of DC voting rights. We are outraged that a minority of Senators, led by Senators Mitch McConnell and Trent Lott, prevented the majority from voting on our bill.”


THINK FAST

“Unable to garner enough Republican support, Senate Democratic leaders said yesterday that they are abandoning a bipartisan effort to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq by next spring.” Instead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to push for a firm deadline, this time June 2008. “It’s all definite timelines,” Reid said.

Sen. John Warner (R-VA) suggested yesterday that he may pull his support for Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) measure to give the overstretched armed forces more rest. Warner voted for the measure last July, but he now claims to be appeased by the administration’s token withdrawal. Call your Senators and demand their support for Webb’s pro-troop amendment.

29: President Bush’s approval rating in the latest Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday, which is “below his worst Zogby poll mark of 30 percent in March.”

“A preliminary Iraqi report on a shooting involving” private security firm Blackwater USA says the company’s employees “were not ambushed, as the company reported, but instead fired at a car when it did not heed a policeman’s call to stop, killing a couple and their infant.” The Iraqi Interior Ministry says it has revoked Blackwater’s license over the incident.

The U.S. military has introduced “religious enlightenment” programs for Iraqi detainees. The commander of U.S. detention facilities said the effort is intended to “bend them back to our will.” It is also an effort to identify “irreconcilables” and “put them away” in permanent detention facilities. 

Iraq is the “bank robbery capital of the world,” holding the record for the “first and second highest amounts taken in the history of bank robberies.”

And finally: Ellen DeGeneres “has been trying in vain to get CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on her show, even calling his studio during his broadcast.” On Monday, Blitzer said on The Situation Room, “Of course I’ll be on your show, and I’d love you to come on my show as well.” But that wasn’t enough. So yesterday, DeGeneres had MSNBC host Chris Matthews call in to her show, while the screen read, “Ellen’s on the phone with Chris Matthews because Wolf Blitzer wouldn’t take her call.”

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GOOD NEWS

Wal-Mart, a member of the “Better Health Care Together” coalition with the Center for American Progress and SEIU, “unveiled a broad” new health care plan yesterday that independent experts say “could represent a turning point for the retailer, the nation’s largest private employer.”

STATE WATCH

MARYLAND: State’s highest court upholds law banning gay marriage.

LOUISIANA: The town of Jena has become a “flashpoint over the issue of racial bias in the criminal justice system.”

ILLINOIS: An new abortion clinic in Illinois has become “ground zero in the fight for women’s access to reproductive health care.”

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: CNN claims that only pro-war demonstrators are “troop supporters.”

DANGER ROOM: The U.S. military is employing “a steady diet of anti-Shi’ite propaganda” in Iraq.

CREW BLOG: CREW releases “Beyond DeLay: the 22 most corrupt members of Congress (and two to watch).”

FOX ATTACKS: Fox News’s “balanced” analysis of Gen. David Petraeus’s testimony in 90 seconds.

DAILY GRILL

“I can’t imagine who you insult if you say Islamic terrorist. You don’t insult anyone who is Islamic who isn’t a terrorist.”
— Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, 7/1/07

VERSUS

“Even adding the word Islamic…make[s] it very, very difficult…to keep this problem from becoming mainstream.”
— Former CENTCOM Commander Gen. John Abizaid, 9/17/07, on why people in the Middle East think America is fighting mainline Islam, not just extremism