President Barack Obama promised he would end "Washington games." But his abrupt firing of the AmeriCorps inspector general is more of the same.
The brewing scandal smells like the Beltway cronyism of the Bush years. And the apparent meddling of first lady Michelle Obama in the matter smacks of the corruption of the Clinton years.
News of Gerald Walpin's unceremonious dismissal broke last week in Youth Today, an independent national publication focused on the volunteerism sector. Walpin was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007 and has served well, honorably and effectively. Too effectively.
His removal came a week after he posed questions about two programs, according to Youth Today.
One is the Teaching Fellows Program, run by the Research Foundation of the City University of New York. Walpin's audit -- online at www.cncsig.gov/ AuditReports.html -- uncovered a multitude of grant violations. Walpin's office questioned duplicate educational awards of more than $16 million and costs worth nearly $775,000. CUNY refused to return excess funds, failed to revise procedures to prevent such abuse and refused to provide proof documenting that its AmeriCorps participants existed. Walpin advised AmeriCorps' parent organization, the Corporation for National and Community Service, to cut off any new funding and re-examine past government funding totaling upward of $75 million.
The second program Walpin challenged is the nonprofit St. HOPE Academy, run by Obama supporter Kevin Johnson, the Democratic mayor of Sacramento and a former NBA basketball star. In a special May report, Walpin's office blew the whistle on a highly politicized U.S. attorney's office settlement with Johnson and his deputy, Dana Gonzalez. The pair exploited nearly $900,000 in AmeriCorps funding for personal and political gain. Based on Walpin's investigation last year, CNCS suspended their access to federal funds after determining that they were:
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";
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"; and
Improperly using AmeriCorps "members to perform non-AmeriCorps clerical and other services" that "were outside the scope of the grant and therefore were impermissible" for "the benefit of St. HOPE."
But in the wake of Johnson's mayoral victory and Obama's election in November, the U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento rushed to settle with the new mayor so he could avail himself of federal stimulus funds and other government money. Walpin said in his special report last month, "The settlement ... leaves the unmistakable impression that relief from a suspension can be bought."
Shortly after, the White House announced that it had "lost confidence" in Walpin. With Walpin's removal, the decks are clear to install lackeys who will protect the government volunteerism industry and its Democratic cronies. And a chilling effect has undoubtedly taken hold in every other inspector general's office in Washington.
GOP Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa is pressing Obama for more details. Tough questions need to be asked of the first lady, who has "taken the lead" in selecting AmeriCorps' managers, according to Youth Today. Her former chief of staff, Jackie Norris, will serve as a "senior adviser" to CNCS beginning next week. What role did they play in Walpin's sacking? And why?
Transparency. Accountability. Fiscal responsibility. In Obama World, these are proving to be nothing more than words. Just words.
Malkin's e-mail address is email@example.com.