Pentagon Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz yesterday canceled a ceremonial visit to Potsdam, Germany, after a key Republican senator complained that the $16,000 trip was the kind of wasteful spending that inspectors general are supposed to stamp out.
Schmitz told aides to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz had advised him not to attend Saturday's dedication of two U.S.-made bronze plaques for a monument to Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben, a Grassley spokeswoman said. Von Steuben was a former Prussian Army officer who trained American soldiers during the Revolutionary War.
Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben was effectively the first Army inspector general. Schmitz had conceived of a ceremony to mark his birth.
(Benoit Louis Prevost Engraving (1780) -- The National Portrai)
John R. Crane, assistant inspector general for communications, said in an e-mail that Schmitz "made an independent decision not to attend" the ceremony.
"Concerns were raised in relation to this trip," said Lt. Col. Gary Keck, a DOD spokesman. "Mr. Schmitz determined that it was not in the best interests of the department that he go on this trip, and he canceled it."
Schmitz also scrapped a planned interview with The Washington Post yesterday.
Schmitz conceived of the ceremony last year and encouraged the Defense Department to pursue it, believing that it would be an appropriate way to strengthen U.S.-German ties and mark the 275th anniversary of the birth of a man who was effectively the first Army inspector general, aides to the IG said Wednesday. Schmitz was to fly to Europe yesterday and be the keynote speaker at the event. Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Green, the Army IG and a member of Schmitz's delegation, is already in Europe and will give the keynote speech instead, Crane said.
The ceremony, organized by the U.S. Army, Europe, with involvement from the State Department, has cost U.S. taxpayers $100,000 so far and could reach an amount double that, according to the IG's office and Grassley aides. Green, Crane and a military assistant were to accompany Schmitz on the trip at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $16,000 -- including $5,000 for copies in German of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence and $1,500 in shipping expenses for artwork. The plaques, documents and artwork still are being sent over for use in the ceremony, Crane said.
Grassley, an advocate for inspectors general and whistle-blowers, had criticized Schmitz for taking a leadership role in a project that fell outside an IG's core duties of conducting investigations and audits, saying it could distract from the agency's primary mission.
"As IG, Mr. Schmitz is the top cop on waste in the Pentagon," Grassley wrote Wednesday in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, asking him to seek an independent review of the matter. "If there is a perception that he himself is engaged in wasteful conduct, that would undermine his credibility as the DOD watchdog on waste."
Grassley wrote that Schmitz's actions left him vulnerable to congressional criticism and budget cuts, and gave the appearance that he was using his public position to advance a personal interest. Grassley, who aired similar complaints in an April 20 letter to Rumsfeld, noted that Schmitz hosted a dinner party in Annapolis last July in honor of Henning-Hubertus von Steuben, president of the von Steuben Family Association of Germany, at a cost of $800 to the taxpayer. The same man was an invited guest at a DOD welcoming ceremony for Schmitz after he was sworn in as inspector general in 2002.
James L. Pavlik, the assistant DOD inspector general for investigative policy and oversight, has referred Grassley's letters for possible review by the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, the umbrella organization for presidentially appointed inspectors general, said Lt. Col. Rose-Ann L. Lynch, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
Aides to Schmitz said this week that the ceremony was intended, in part, to improve relations between the United States and Germany, which have been strained since Germany did not support the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The United States originally presented Germany with a statue of von Steuben in 1911 as a token of friendship. This weekend's ceremony is scheduled to include speeches by the mayor of Potsdam and the American ambassador to Germany, and the opening of a von Steuben exhibit at a German museum.
In a statement yesterday, Grassley said he was relieved Schmitz had called off the trip.
"His involvement in this project was a mistake, and it should be recognized as such. This project took a lot of his time," Grassley said. "Now it's time to get back to being the inspector general. Mr. Schmitz has had several important accomplishments as IG. He should follow through on these initiatives and make that office work the way an inspector general's office is supposed to work."