Issa presses for USAID documents

J. Scott Applewhite/AP - House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and other lawmakers rush to the House floor during a series of votes amending the emergency spending package to assist victims of Superstorm Sandy, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has threatened to subpoena the nation’s foreign aid agency if it doesn’t hand over documents and information relating to alleged wrongdoing by top agency officials.

Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told administrator Rajiv Shah of the U.S. Agency for International Development that the documents had to be produced by Monday evening.

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The oversight committee is examining an inspector general’s investigation into possible contract-rigging by the agency’s general counsel and allegations that USAID’s second-ranking executive interfered with the probe.

The contract was for an adviser to USAID’s government-to-government direct assistance program, which is part of an initiative to improve the outcomes for foreign aid and wean developing nations off support.

An internal memo from the inspector general’s office indicates investigators were trying to determine whether USAID general counsel Lisa Gomer worked with former agency chief financial officer David Ostermeyer to create a six-figure contract that would go to Ostermeyer after he retired from the agency.

The document alleges that deputy administrator Donald Steinberg chastised investigators, telling them their efforts to gather information were “inappropriate” and that the issue should have been taken to senior USAID officials before going to the Justice Department.

USAID said none of its top officials interfered with the inspector general’s efforts.

“The investigation was conducted unimpeded, and we cooperated with the investigation,” spokesman Kamyl Bazbaz said last week.

Issa has requested documents and communications relating to the contract and subsequent inquiries by the inspector general and the House oversight committee.

Issa’s letter, sent Tuesday and co-signed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — chairman of the oversight committee’s national security subcommittee — noted that corruption is prevalent in many developing nations that receive U.S. aid.

“It is therefore troubling that senior USAID officials . . . have themselves been implicated in allegations of contracting fraud and interference with an independent inspector general, whose job is to protect the taxpayer interest from this type of activity,” the letter said.

Corruption in prioritized countries and disaster areas is one of three “persistent problems” for USAID, according to the latest inspector general’s report, from 2011, on management challenges for the agency.

Two-thirds of all nations scored in the lower half of the rating scale on the corruption perceptions index of watchdog group Transparency International-USA.

“Corruption amounts to a dirty tax, and the poor and most vulnerable are its primary victims,” the group said on its index Web site.

Bazbaz said USAID terminated the solicitation Gomer had allegedly made for Ostermeyer when the agency learned of it. Gomer has resigned, he said, and will leave the agency on Feb. 9. Ostermeyer retired on Jan. 3 and declined last week to comment on the investigation.

USAID said the State Department is reviewing the documents and communications Issa requested to determine whether any information is diplomatically sensitive.

“We will produce the responsive information to the committee after an interagency review of the documents is complete,” said Bazbaz, who noted that House oversight committee staff members have personally reviewed some requested documents.

 
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