- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

A key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday asked the FBI for copies of an internal investigation into a sham conference used by senior FBI executives to attend a retirement party for a top bureau official at taxpayers' expense.

In a letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a senior member of the Judiciary subcommittee on administrative oversight, said the bureau's mild discipline of several Senior Executive Service (SES) agents who attended a 1997 party for ex-FBI Deputy Director Larry A. Potts raised "many troubling questions."

The request comes in the wake of a General Accounting Office report released yesterday showing that senior FBI agents spent more than $1,800 in government money to attend the party instead of the conference.

"The central issue at hand is the matter of a double standard within the FBI in the adjudication of misconduct for like offenses between Senior Executive Service officials and the rank and file," said the Iowa Republican. "As I am sure you will agree, the existence of such a double standard can contribute to an 'us vs. them' mentality within the rank and file and a predictable degradation of unity and morale."

Mr. Grassley said the FBI opted for disciplinary decisions in the Potts case that "only served to reinforce the existence of a double standard."

Last year, a confidential report found that an Integrity in Law Enforcement conference at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., on Oct. 10, 1997, was used as cover for senior FBI exectuives to obtain reimbursement for personal travel to Washington to attend Mr. Potts' Oct. 9, 1997, party in Arlington.

None of the senior executives was disciplined other than to receive letters of censure, although similar actions by rank and file FBI agents would have led to their firing.

More than 140 persons, including as many as nine FBI executives and special-agents-in-charge of bureau field offices, attended the Potts party, while only five persons showed up for the conference which lasted about 90 minutes, including lunch.

Two months before the party, Mr. Potts was under criminal investigation for his questionable handling of a standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, during which three persons were killed.

In September 1999, the FBI's Law Enforcement Ethics Unit (LEEU) said in a report there was "little question of voucher fraud and lack of candor" on the part of several senior FBI executives who attended the party.

The report said a board of FBI executives who oversaw punishment for senior managers ignored warnings by former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh in a 1994 memo that said voucher fraud and lack of candor lying or making false statements would result in dismissal. The board recommended only letters of censure.

In addition, the report said, the board never addressed accusations that senior FBI managers lied concerning travel vouchers they submitted. Investigators said the senior managers filed false vouchers, misused government property and lied under oath.

Mr. Grassley said all former and current FBI agents associated with wrongdoing in the Potts party should be held accountable by returning money to the taxpayers. He also asked the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General to review the FBI's discipline in the Potts case to determine whether there is a "disparity in the adjudication of discipline for like offenses between the SES and the rank and file."

The GAO has estimated that $3,217 was paid as travel reimbursement, including $1,864 for the two FBI employees who received letters of censure for inappropriate travel and one employee who retired before receiving such a letter.

Mr. Potts has declined comment on the case.

The GAO findings were released by Mr. Grassley and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who requested the review. Although FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has promised equity in bureau discipline, they have expressed interest in legislation to halt the double standard.

"Morale, discipline and management all suffer when double standards like this are tolerated, and there should be no place for them in the FBI," Mr. Leahy said. "We will continue to work … to fix this problem, and we will consider putting forward legislation to make it a permanent fix."

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