President Obama promised he would end "Washington games." But his abrupt firing of the AmeriCorps inspector general is more of the same. The brewing scandal smells like the Beltway cronyism of the Bush years. And the apparent meddling of first lady Michelle Obama in the matter smacks of the corruption of the Clinton years.
If Obama keeps up with this "change," we'll be back to the Watergate era by Christmas.
News of AmeriCorps watchdog Gerald Walpin's unceremonious dismissal first broke last week in Youth Today, an independent national publication focused on the volunteerism sector. Walpin was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007 and has served well, honorably and effectively. Too effectively. His removal came a week after he "questioned the eligibility of the largest and most expensive AmeriCorps program, and while the IG was contesting the 'propriety' of a settlement made with a mayor for alleged misuse of AmeriCorps funds," according to Youth Today.
The first taxpayer-subsidized program is the Teaching Fellows Program, run by the Research Foundation of the City University of New York. Walpin's audit -- which can be found online at www.cncsig.gov/AuditReports.html -- uncovered a multitude of grant violations, including criminal background check lapses and "pervasive problems of eligibility, timekeeping and documentation."
Walpin's office questioned duplicate educational awards of more than $16 million and costs worth nearly $775,000. CUNY refused to return excess funds that it had drawn down, failed to revise procedures to prevent such grant abuse and refused to provide proof documenting that its AmeriCorps participants actually existed. Walpin advised AmeriCorps' parent organization, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), to cut off any new funding and re-examine past government funding totaling upward of $75 million.
CNCS, now chaired by Democratic mega-fundraiser Alan Solomont, has ignored Walpin's recommendations. The Obama watchdogs are snoozing. Expect the same kind of lackadaisical approach toward policing the $6 billion AmeriCorps expansion and new national service bill signed into law by Obama in April.