One year to the day after illegally firing AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin, the Obama administration is scrambling to ward off further embarrassments related to the case. On Friday, Mr. Walpin’s lawsuit for reinstatement moved forward another step. For this tempest to be raging a full year later shows how badly the administration botched the situation from the start.
On June 11, 2009, President Obama fired Mr. Walpin without explanation to Congress despite having co-sponsored a law as senator that required such an explanation before an inspector general could be dismissed. The most public dispute between the administration and Mr. Walpin involved the IG’s efforts to sanction Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and self-proclaimed friend of the first couple, for a series of ethical and financial improprieties in Mr. Johnson’s use of AmeriCorps grants.
On June 9, 2010, The Washington Times broke the story that AmeriCorps’ parent, Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), ignored its own sanctions against Mr. Johnson for infractions admitted by the mayor by featuring him in an honored speaking slot at the upcoming National Conference on Volunteering and Service June 28 through 30 in New York. By June 11 - the anniversary of the firing - CNCS executives made a series of frantic phone calls that resulted in Mr. Johnson being scrubbed from the list of speakers and removed from the website. The remaining questions are: Who invited Mr. Johnson in the first place, and why?
On the same day Mr. Johnson withdrew as a speaker, Mr. Walpin filed a final summation in a federal appeals court explaining why the court should order expedited action on his lawsuit. Even though he filed suit on July 17, and even though his suit is time sensitive because the administration already has nominated a would-be replacement, Judge Richard W. Roberts of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has sat on numerous motions and countermotions for expedited judgment, thus stalling the case. Mr. Walpin’s petition for a writ of mandamus asks the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to issue an order for Judge Roberts to rule on all pending motions.
The Obama administration’s goal clearly is to run out the clock until Mr. Walpin’s replacement is confirmed, which would seem to make this case moot. On Friday, however, Mr. Walpin explained its broader importance. “The longer this case sits idly on the [judge’s] docket,” he said, “the clearer the message is to other IGs that … protections Congress granted them against political interference are in doubt.”
That’s what this case really is about. Inspectors general are meant to serve as independent watchdogs against corruption. The administration wants IGs to be lapdogs. By taking on an honorable bulldog such as Mr. Walpin, the administration has focused more attention, not less, on the breadth of its politicized shenanigans.