A federal appeals court in Washington sided Tuesday with the Obama administration in the controversial firing of Gerald Walpin, the former internal watchdog of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Mr. Walpin disputed that, saying the administration fired him because he had concluded that Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA all-star and Obama supporter, had misused federal AmeriCorps grants when he ran the nonprofit St. Hope Academy between 2004 and 2007.
A U.S. attorney’s office in California concluded in a separate investigation that St. Hope did mishandle some federal money but it did not rise to the level of criminal wrongdoing. The school subsequently agreed to pay back some of the AmeriCorps money.
The U.S. attorney’s office criticized Mr. Walpin’s handling of the case, accusing him of overstepping his authority, failing to act impartially and withholding information from the U.S. attorney’s office.
In his lawsuit, Mr. Walpin said the Obama administration removed him from his post without providing the legally required 30-day notice to Congress. He argued that he was effectively terminated when he was relieved of all his duties and abruptly placed on “administrative leave” in June 2009.
The three-judge panel, consisting of appointees of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, disagreed. They ruled that a letter sent to Congress in the wake of Mr. Walpin’s placement on administrative leave met the notification requirements.
“His placement on administrative leave, however, did not constitute removal from office,” Judge Karen L. Henderson wrote. “Walpin remained on administrative leave, with pay, until July 18, 2009, more than thirty days after the Presidents letters to the Congress, when he was in fact removed from the payroll.”
Asked whether he planned to appeal, Mr. Walpin would say only that he was “considering all options.” He said he remained proud of his tenure as inspector general and that Tuesday’s decision “emasculates” congressional protections given to inspectors general.
“By this decision, the court allows the President to remove any IG forthwith, without any notice to Congress, merely by taking him out of his office and work and placing him on administrative leave,” Mr. Walpin wrote in his e-mail to The Times. “I only hope that Congress promptly takes the necessary step to reinstate this protection of IGs in a way that no President can ignore it.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, who criticized the White House’s handling of the situation, said in a written statement that Mr. Walpin’s firing “violated the spirit and intent” of the law.
“It dilutes the independence of these government watchdogs if the only explanation necessary for their removal is something as vague as ‘lost confidence,’” Mr. Grassley said. “That’s bad news for accountability in government.”
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