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Posted by on Jun 12, 2009 in Breaking News, Politics | 12 comments

AmeriCorps Controversy Brewing?

americorps.jpg

The Inspector General for AmeriCorps (the public/private cooperative venture for doing all sorts of community service jobs) has been fired for his conduct in investigating an Obama-connected politician. Is it a justifiable firing of an over-zealous investigator, a payback for political favors, or — something I happened to run across that hasn’t entered the storyline yet — an internal political disagreement about large AmeriCorps programs?

I’m not normally a follower of this sort of stuff, but I’m intrigued because it involves AmeriCorps. That program is not only something that Obama has been keen on aggressively expanding, but something that I feel if it were done right could have a major positive impact on the nation. Of course “done right” is the key phrase, as it is also very open to graft and corruption. That this plays into the whole “Obama is making a secret army” meme of some on the kooky right and the “see government programs will always become corrupt no matter how good in intent” of the more traditional conservatives guarantees that this will stick around for a while.

As this is shaping up into a “he said/he said” situation, a lot of it will come down to perception. Personally, I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the oversight process; I believe IGs and auditors much more readily than the people that they are investigating. A lot of this comes down to the fact that those jobs are very easy to just let things slide and no one will ever know, while raising a stink and trying to do the right thing is dangerous. This aspect normally means that the staid and even handed are drawn towards them, although of course there are always bad apples (cough…Ken Starr).

On the other hand, this IG was a Bush appointee, and while I would never use that as the sole reason to dismiss the firing, it does make me much more skeptical. There are numerous and well documented accounts of Bush placing highly unqualified and political minded people into career technocratic positions and that casts a shadow across all Bush appointees, unfairly or not.

And as the White House’s letter says:

In a letter sent Thursday night to Sen. Charles Grassley, White House counsel Gregory Craig cited a complaint lodged by the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento, Lawrence Brown, accusing Walpin of misconduct in the St. Hope investigation. “The Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California, a career prosecutor who was appointed to his post during the Bush Administration, has referred Mr. Walpin’s conduct for review by the Integrity Committee of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE),” Craig wrote. “We are aware of the circumstances leading to that referral and of Mr. Walpin’s conduct throughout his tenure and can assure you that that the President’s decision was carefully considered.”

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.