An inspector general fired by President Obama says he was given no warning and only one hour to decide whether to resign or be let go, hinting the action was retaliation for a report highly critical of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA basketball star and an Obama supporter.
Gerald Walpin, a 2006 Bush appointee who reviewed grants awarded by AmeriCorps and other national service programs, said the telephone call he received Thursday evening from White House counsel Norman L. Eisen informing him he was ousted “occurred totally out of the blue.”
Mr. Walpin said he and his staff had always acted with the “highest integrity” during his two-and-a-half-year tenure. “We performed very well the responsibility of the independent overseer of the agency, and reported things as we saw it,” he said.
The White House hasn’t said specifically why it fired Mr. Walpin, other than to say that the president has lost confidence in him.
“It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General,” said Mr. Obama in a letter to Congress Thursday. “That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General.”
In an e-mail response to Mr. Eisen Thursday, Mr. Walpin said he refused to resign on such short notice because “it would do a disservice to the independent scheme [for inspector generals] that Congress had mandated - and could potentially raise questions about my own integrity - if I were to render what would seem to many a very hasty response to your request.”
But Mr. Walpin, in his e-mail to Mr. Eisen, said he wasn’t convinced of the White House’s assertion that his firing and the release of two reports he recently submitted that are highly critical of AmeriCorps parent group, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), wasn’t “coincidence.”
“I would suggest there is a high likelihood that others may see it otherwise,” Mr. Walpin wrote.
One of Mr. Walpin’s reports dealt with his investigation of a highly publicized case accusing St. Hope Academy - founded by Mr. Johnson - of mishandling some of the $850,000 it received in CNCS grants, which came out during the Sacramento mayoral race. Mr. Johnson’s nonprofit group has promised to repay about half of the money.
But Sacramento’s Acting U.S. Attorney Lawrence G. Brown has sharply criticized Mr. Walpin’s handling of his investigation of Mr. Johnson and the nonprofit group.
In August 2008, while Mr. Johnson was campaigning for his successful November election, Mr. Walpin referred the matter to the local U.S. attorney’s office, which said his conclusions seemed overstated and didn’t accurately reflect the information gathered in the investigation.
The report said Mr. Johnson used grants to pay volunteers to engage in school-board political activities and to run personal errands for Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Brown accused Mr. Walpin of overstepping his authority, compromising his impartiality and withholding information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“The Inspector General is not intended to act as an advocate for suspension and debarment,” complained Mr. Brown in a letter to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. “He sought to act as the investigator, advocate, judge, jury and town crier.”
On Wednesday night, Alan Solomont, a Democrat and the board chairman of the government-run corporation, and Stephen Goldsmith, a Republican and the board’s vice chair, said they backed the president’s decision, which they learned about ahead of time.
Ken Bach, who works in the CNCS inspector general’s office, has been named acting inspector general until Mr. Obama appoints a replacement to Mr. Walpin.
Mr. Walpin declined to say what his next move will be.
“I’ll let the facts speak for themselves,” he said. “We did our job as we saw it with high integrity, issuing two reports that the corporation objected to and the [CNCS] chairman of the board objected to. That’s the job of the inspector general.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, on Friday praised Mr. Walpin for identifying millions of dollars in wasted or misspent grants.
The Obama administration has requested $1.149 billion for CNCS and its programs for fiscal year 2010, a $259 million - or 29 percent increase - over its previous budget.