Tiff between D.C. watchdogs appears to be over

September 5, 2013
The clash of watchdog agencies threatened efforts to hold government employees accountable for misdeeds. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

An unusual conflict between the city’s ethics board and its internal watchdog agency appears to have been put to rest.

Darrin P. Sobin, director of government ethics for the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, said Wednesday that the Office of the Inspector General had shared documents necessary to proceed with a case against an employee accused of misusing a disabled parking placard.

Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby, whose deputies investigated the case, had initially resisted sharing some of the records pertaining to it, arguing that granting the board unfettered access to the files would threaten the independence of his office.

The high-pitched dispute culminated in an Aug. 1 vote by the ethics board to authorize a subpoena of the records, followed by rare comments from Willoughby defending his right to share only what his office determines is “relevant and appropriate,”

But Sobin told the board at its monthly meeting Wednesday that no subpoenas were necessary because the parties had come to an understanding.

“We have an agreed-upon process in place for requesting the documents,” he said. “And we have a commitment from him that he intends to treat us as he treats the U.S. attorney’s office,” which regularly prosecutes crimes investigated by the IG’s office.

Sobin said he was “extremely optimistic” that the matter was put to rest, though he said after the meeting that no written agreement is in place.

The ethics board’s right to inspect investigatory and other records could be etched into law if legislation now before the D.C. Council moves forward. A hearing on the bill, which would address several aspects of the new agency’s operations, is set for Oct. 7 before the Committee on Government Operations.

Neither Willoughby nor a deputy responded to e-mails seeking comment Thursday.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.
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