Thursday, May 20, 2010

Obama's Fishy Firing of Walpin

When Alberto Gonzales fired a few U.S. Attorneys the left went nuts calling his actions politically motivated and demanding an investigation into the firings be held. When Barack Obama fired an inspector general, a position that is above politics, the media didn't even report it. I'm guessing this is the first time you've heard of it.

Let's embark on from the beginning. Before being fired Gerald Walpin was the Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service. As the Inspector General he oversaw AmeriCorps. During this time AmeriCorps gave an $850,000 grant to a Sacramento based organization known as St. Hope. The organization is run by Kevin Johnson, a former NBA basketball player and the mayor of Sacramento. Not surprisingly Johnson is also a well-known Obama supporter. When the organization received the grant they wrote the rules, and there were only three of them.

They were:

- Providing one-on-one tutoring to [Sacramento] elementary and high school students

- Managing the redevelopment of one building a year in the Oak Park [the Sacramento neighborhood in which St. HOPE operates,

- Coordinating logistics, public relations, and marketing for the Guild Theater and Art Gallery events, just like hands-on workshops, guest artist lectures, and art exhibitions for Sacramento High School for the Arts and PS7 Elementary School [in Sacramento] Furthermore the grant funds could not be used to "pay all or part of the salaries of its employees or the costs associated with its administrative or management structure." Put simply if the funds were being used on an activity unlisted in the above three goals, they were being misused. The California State Commission caught some irregularities and notified the office of irregularities at St. Hope. That sparked the investigation by the Inspector General.

The two investigators on the case were Jeffrey Morales and Wendy Wingers. The agents spent a lot of time investigating the allegations. They made five trips out to Sacramento and conducted 26 interviews. even so, Johnson refused to be interviewed. The investigators inquired twice and both times were told that Johnson's schedule was too jam packed. You'd think Johnson would have liked to speak to the investigators to clear his organizations name, but he refused. On September 24, 2008 St. Hope was officially suspended from any federal procurement or nonprocurement activities. The suspension detailed six violations of the organization:

- Using AmeriCorps members to recruit students for St. HOPE Academy

- Using AmeriCorps members for political activities in connection with the Sacramento Board of Education election

- Taking grant-funded AmeriCorps members to New York to promote the expansion of St. HOPE operations in Harlem -Assigning grant-funded AmeriCorps members to perform services "personally benefiting...Johnson," such as "driving [him] to personal appointments, washing [his] car, and running personal errands

- "Supplementing staff salaries by converting grant funds designated for AmeriCorps members," by enrolling two St. HOPE Academy employees "into the AmeriCorps program for the 2004-2005 grant year" without changing their duties, thereby improperly using grant funds so that one St. HOPE employee's "salary was then paid through the AmeriCorps program," plus she "received an [AmeriCorps] living allowance and an education award," and the other employee's salary, which was not paid from the grant, "was supplemented by both an AmeriCorps living allowance and an education award

- Improperly using AmeriCorps "members to perform non-AmeriCorps clerical and other services" that "were outside the scope of the grant and so were impermissible" for "the benefit of St. HOPE" But that wasn't the end. The U.S. Attorney in Sacramento declined to file criminal charges against the organization or Johnson. It ought to be noted that when this investigation began Johnson wasn't the mayor of Sacramento. As a matter of fact when the suspension to St. Hope was handed down he wasn't even the mayor, he was elected in December 2008. Clearly Johnson wanted all of this to go away. It would be terrible if the newly elected mayor of Sacramento was slapped with criminal charges only five months into his tenure. So there was a settlement.

The U.S. Attorney's office settled for half of the money to be returned, around $400,000. And here we are, early June and Obama has fired Walpin. And for what? A bum investigation? That can't be the case the U.S. Attorney's office settled. The only logical answer is that Johnson is a big supporter of Obama and Walpin came very approximately getting criminal charges slapped on him. So why does all this matter? Why would Obama prefer to fire Walpin for simply getting in the hair of among his good friends? While I think fiddling with Obama's buddies was probably reason enough for Obama to justify firing Walpin (at least in his own mind) there seems to be a little more to the story and it goes hand-in-hand with Obama's economic stimulus package.

See when St. Hope was put on the list banning them from receiving federal aid so was Johnson. The city was worried that because Johnson was on the Excluded Parties List the city wouldn't be provided to receive federal dollars, including stimulus funds. So the city hired attorney Frederic Levy to ensure that was the case, and after five hours of work and a $20,000 plus bill, Levy determined that it was highly likely Sacramento couldn't receive stimulus dollars because of Johnson's banning. The good news for the Sacramento government was that Johnson settled, and was taken off the Excluded Parties List. But as we've seen with Obama thus far, messing with the stimulus is a no-no. he has been very critical of states that have refused stimulus dollars, couple that with Johnson being a strong supporter and it seems very likely that Obama would fire Walpin.

Okay, so Obama fired an Inspector General for political and personal reasons, why is that illegal? it is illegal because Obama made it illegal. Enter the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008. A bill introduced by Claire McCaskill of Missouri and co-sponsored by 11 others, including Barack Obama. The act puts Inspector Generals above politics. Furthermore it needs a 30 days notice, including a written statement as to why the firing is taking place, has to be presented to Congress.

Walpin claims that the Obama administration gave him a mere one-hour to make his decision to either resign or be fired. And it wasn't until after Walpin said he wasn't going to resign that the Obama administration in conclusion sent notification to congress with this pathetic reason, "it's vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general. That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general." Why does not Obama have full confidence in Walpin anymore? Who knows, apparently that messily one sentence is reason enough to fire a guy.

Walpin is already off of the Inspector General's website; his page is replaced by the acting IG Kenneth Bach. The Obama admin says Walpin is on paid leave and will be fired at the end of a 30 day period but that nonetheless does not provide us with a good reason as to why he was fired. And do not hold your breath for a reason. You could if you wanted to but my guess it you would die seven times over from suffocation before the media questions Obama about it. If they do I'm sure Robert Gibbs will have some Jedi mind trick answer up his sleeve. I guess you could say Walpin is a victim of "politics as usual."

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