'Anything Goes' Administration

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Monday, October 2, 2006

THE INTERIOR Department's inspector general says the department suffers from an "anything goes" ethical culture.

"Simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior," Inspector General Earl E. Devaney told a House Government Reform subcommittee last month. "Ethics failures on the part of senior department officials -- taking the form of appearances of impropriety, favoritism and bias -- have been routinely dismissed with a promise 'not to do it again.' "

At the Education Department, its inspector general found, officials violated conflict-of-interest rules and steered contracts for its $4.8 billion Reading First program to favored textbook publishers.

"They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the [expletive deleted by IG] out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags," the Reading First program director, Chris Doherty, wrote about one company in an e-mail to staff members.

Mr. Doherty, you won't be surprised to learn, just left the department to "return to the private sector."

Meanwhile, three top officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development told the inspector general there that Secretary Alphonso Jackson had said "it was important to consider presidential supporters when candidates for HUD discretionary contracts were being considered.''

Mr. Jackson "personally intervened with contractors whom he did not like . . . these contractors had Democratic political affiliations," the inspector general found. The secretary had boasted in a public speech last April that he killed an advertising contract because the recipient had criticized the president -- then dismissed his comments as "anecdotal."

In fact, the investigation found, Mr. Jackson had expressed such political preferences -- there just wasn't evidence that anyone had acted on his wishes.

And then there was the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, which sent -- in the account of The Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest" to help rebuild Iraq -- with a screening process that featured questions on whether applicants voted for George W. Bush or even what they thought about Roe v. Wade .

A 24-year-old who lacked a background in finance -- but who had applied for a White House job -- was detailed to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The head of a faith-based relief organization that provided health care while promoting Christianity in developing countries was sent to replace a physician with extensive experience in postwar health administration because, the physician was told, the White House wanted a "loyalist" in the job.

These dots connect to form a disturbing picture -- not so much of greed-fueled corruption as of ideologically driven coziness. Those who differ from the party line are excluded from the benefits of power, while those who toe it are welcomed and, if they err, quickly forgiven. A more responsible president would put a quick stop to this. A more responsible Congress would insist.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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