Earl Devaney, responsible for tracking federal economic stimulus dollars, is submitting his resignation to the White House Thursday and plans to retire at the end of December after 41 years of service at four federal agencies.
Devaney told The Federal Eye in an interview Wednesday that he plans to retire to Florida with his wife — about four years behind schedule — and plans to seek part-time employment as a consultant or on corporate boards.
Though Vice President Biden calls himself the “stimulus sheriff” and serves as the political face of the $840 billion economic stimulus program, Devaney is the nonpartisan overseer, leading a team of 50 auditors and investigators that taps dozens of federal databases, social media sites and news reports to track the names and history of every single recipient of federal stimulus dollars. Suspicious cases of potential waste, fraud or abuse are referred to federal inspectors general or the Justice Department for further review.
“There has been fraud, very little,” Devaney said Wednesday, acknowledging that the most obvious missteps has been the Energy Department’s decision to reward millions of stimulus dollars to Solyndra, a now-bankrupt solar energy company.
The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (known as “the RAT Board,” a name Devaney says he detests) also operates Recovery.gov, a site that shares stimulus spending and recipient information. It has earned wide praise from government transparency advocates as a wise use of the Internet for federal oversight efforts.
“You can’t overestimate the value of putting [stimulus data] on a Web site where people could go on and put in their ZIP code and see where that money was supposed to be in their neighborhood and then opine on that — good, bad or indifferent,” Devaney said. “It allows us to prevent fraud in the first instance, or at least interrupt it in its committment, as opposed to the old paradigm that most inspectors general, including myself, used to operate on of simply detecting it and chasing it down the street after the money was gone.”
A former Cape Cod garbageman, Devaney joined the ranks of the U.S. Secret Service in 1970 and once dodged bullets fired by a woman who mistook him for Gerald R. Ford. He retired from the agency in 1991 after bolstering its white collar crime unit.
Devaney’s self-described “insatiable desire to either build something or fix something” led him next to help build the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement division, a job that led to his appointment in 1999 as inspector general of the Interior Department.
At Interior, Devaney discovered that officials with the Minerals Management Service had engaged in illegal drug use and sexual activity with subordinates and government contractors, cases that contributed to the agency’s eventual demise — and a presidential rebuke — after the Gulf Coast oil spill. Devaney’s office also contributed to the investigations that led to the conviction of former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
“I’m quite frankly . . .disappointed that more people didn’t go to jail and that [Abramoff] ended up as one of very people to go to jail,” Devaney said Wednesday, adding that others would have been punished “if we had a little bit more aggressive approach” in seeking out his accomplices.
(We’ll have more from Devaney in a forthcoming report. Stay tuned.)
The RAT Board, established by Congress in 2009 as part of the economic stimulus program, by law has until Sept. 2013 to complete its oversight of the spending program. President Obama will need to appoint a new director of the office, but White House aides Wednesday wouldn’t comment on who might be selected for the job.
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