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EDITORIAL: A witness to Walpin-gate

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

The belated White House explanation for firing the AmeriCorps inspector general doesn't ring true.

The White House claims Inspector General Gerald Walpin was effectively away without leave from his Washington office and that he was so "disoriented" and "confused" at a May 20 meeting that it made officials "question his capacity to serve." An exclusive witness told The Washington Times both charges are baseless.

By all accounts, the May 20 meeting was contentious. It was then that Mr. Walpin chastised the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service for failing to exercise enough oversight over AmeriCorps grants. Our witness, a staff member, said the board was hostile and rude. He said the board repeatedly interrupted Mr. Walpin and peppered him with questions on multiple issues. He fully confirmed Mr. Walpin's account that the board excused Mr. Walpin for 15 minutes and that when Mr. Walpin returned to find his notepapers out of order, the board refused to give him time to get them straight.

Mr. Walpin says he had been working around the clock and was becoming ill at the meeting. Still, any confusion, the witness said, stemmed at least as much from the board's hectoring behavior as from Mr. Walpin's own doing. Either way, a charge that "disorientation" is enough to "question" an independent official's "capacity to serve" should rest on more than one incident. Nobody has claimed that Mr. Walpin has shown any confusion, not the slightest bit, before or since that meeting.

The second allegation is groundless as well. Mr. Walpin was not "absent from the Corporation's headquarters ... over the objections of the Corporation's Board," as the White House claims. Instead, he had specifically cleared an arrangement to telecommute (from New York to the District office) with the agency's general counsel and its acting chief executive officer. Our witness was present at the meeting when the arrangement was approved.

Mr. Walpin says he cleared the arrangement with the board's chairman, vice chairman and a third board member. Our witness was not present at that meeting but says he was present at more than one subsequent meeting of the full board during which Mr. Walpin mentioned his telecommuting arrangement without a single objection being raised from the board.

The witness confirms that Mr. Walpin had made clear the telecommuting was a test run from January through June which was to be reviewed at the end of June to see if anybody found the system wasn't working. The witness said Mr. Walpin was extremely accessible at all times when working from New York or when on the road. If the inspector general's telecommuting was a problem, there was an opportunity to address the issue and curtail the problem at a review scheduled just three weeks hence, rather than treating the arrangement as a fireable offense.

The fact remains that an inspector general does not serve at the president's pleasure but can be removed only for a specified just cause. No legitimate cause has been given for the firing of AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin.