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Federal Eye: Grassley Presses Obama on Watchdogs

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) this week suggested that the Obama administration is attempting to interfere with investigations conducted by government watchdogs and said he will continue to press the White House for information regarding the recent dismissal of Gerald Walpin, the inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service.

“I kind of get the impression that there’s kind of a crusade early on in this administration to, how would you say it, short circuit inspectors general,” Grassley said earlier this week during an interview.

Staffers for the Iowa Republican are seeking information into at least five alleged incidents of interference with inspectors general at Amtrak, the Corporation, the International Trade Commission, the Library of Congress and with the special inspector general for the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

In addition to the five inquiries, Grassley is also concerned with the establishment of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability (RAT) Board, the panel tasked with overseeing the distribution and use of economic stimulus dollars. He said the body will have a “chilling impact upon the independence” of government watchdogs, citing an obscure part of its authorizing legislation that requires inspectors general seeking information on potential waste, fraud or abuse of economic stimulus dollars to clear such investigations with the board.

“I mean it’s irritating,” Grassley said, raising his voice, “for a president that ran on transparency and accountability. He ought to be encouraging all this stuff, not being seen as an impediment.”

In response, a White House aide noted that then-Sen. Obama cosponsored legislation last year that enacted long-sought reforms for the watchdog community.

“President Obama has long believed in the important role that independent and capable Inspectors General play in ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent properly,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in an e-mail. “That’s why he’ll continue to work with Congress in bipartisan fashion to support the qualified and effective professionals charged with monitoring the conduct of the people’s business.”

RAT Board spokesman Edward Pound also refuted Grassley’s criticism. “Earl Devaney is not going to tell an inspector general not to investigate something,” Pound said in reference to the board’s chairman, a widely respected former Interior Department inspector general who helped expose the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

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