Republican senators ought to place an open and immediate hold upon the nomination of Jon A. Hatfield as inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The legislative hold is necessary not to question Mr. Hatfield’s fitness for the job, but to insist that the job itself should not yet be deemed open. The former inspector general (IG), the improperly dismissed Gerald Walpin, filed a motion in court May 20 to force a judge to stop ignoring his lawsuit for reinstatement. Until he receives his day in court, no replacement should be confirmed.
President Obama dismissed the widely respected Mr. Walpin on June 11, 2009, shortly after Mr. Walpin issued two reports highly embarrassing to political allies of the president. Despite a legal requirement that presidents provide 30 days’ notice to remove any IG and provide an explanation for the dismissal, Mr. Obama originally did neither. When the White House belatedly offered some reasons, they were rife with errors, inconsistencies and a few outright falsehoods.
On July 17, Mr. Walpin filed a federal lawsuit demanding reinstatement. Since then, Judge Richard W. Roberts of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has sat on motion after motion, countermotion after countermotion, without lifting a finger to move the case along. In so doing, he has ignored specific time limits contained in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. He also has played into the hands of the Obama administration, which has used every possible stalling tactic to keep the case buried and its merits unexamined. The goal, which is highly improper, seems to be to render Mr. Walpin’s case moot by putting Mr. Hatfield in his place. Mr. Hatfield was nominated on Feb. 22, and his confirmation is expected to come up soon for final approval.
Mr. Walpin’s latest motion seeks a writ of mandamus, an order from a superior court to force a lower court to do its job. In this case, Mr. Walpin is trying to have the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issue an order for Judge Roberts to rule on all pending motions or else transfer the case to another judge who will actually do his job.
The new petition explains that this is not merely about finding vindication for Mr. Walpin. It notes that inspectors general “are increasingly an integral part of federal agencies as bureaucracies expand and [thus] stretch Congress’ ability to monitor and provide effective oversight.” Inspectors general “ensure … that wrongdoing does not go uncovered because of political interference.”
In an administration increasingly known for outlandish stonewalling of Congress and the press and for its Justice Department’s refusal to investigate any purported administration wrongdoing, IGs are essential. Yes, it is important to fill the IG slot at CNCS. It is even more important to ensure, through Mr. Walpin’s suit, that IGs throughout government have enough protections to know they can keep government honest without fear of retaliation.