Watchdog Faces Three Investigations
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
The inspector general of the Department of Commerce, the watchdog charged with rooting out wrongdoing at the agency, is himself the subject of three separate government investigations into allegations that he misspent his budget and retaliated against employees who raised concerns about his actions.
Last week, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.); Rep. Joe L. Barton (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the panel; and two other members sent an eight-page letter to the inspector general, Johnnie E. Frazier, demanding scores of records. Investigators from two executive-branch agencies have also been looking into Frazier's conduct.
Among the allegations are that he engaged in questionable travel at taxpayer expense, at times over weekends and accompanied by his grandchildren, to cities where the inspector general does not have offices, according to documents and interviews with people close to the inquiries. The investigators are also interested in whether Frazier improperly arranged for a no-bid $150,000 contract to be awarded to a consulting company that the committee's letter alleges was "connected" to a retiring employee of Frazier's office.
A number of senior staff members, including Frazier's deputy, have been reassigned in recent months. At least two have sought whistle-blower protection by alleging that Frazier retaliated against them, and a third has contacted the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination and retaliation, according to the people interviewed.
Frazier declined to comment. He referred reporters to a statement from his office's acting legal counsel, Carolyn Croak, which said that officials in the inspector general's office are "cooperating fully with these investigations and look forward to their speedy resolution."
Among the accusations mentioned in Dingell's letter was that Frazier cut short a government conference so he and senior managers could go gambling in Atlantic City.
"Numerous current and former employees have made serious allegations against you and the way that you have managed your office," Dingell and his colleagues wrote. "They have provided the Committee on Energy and Commerce with credible allegations of serious and widespread fraud, waste, and abuse within your office that involves not only you personally, but also many members of your current management team."
The letter directs Frazier to preserve all records related to the investigation, noting that some witnesses had told the committee that records have been "destroyed, altered and/or tampered with."
Documents obtained by The Washington Post show that inquiries are also underway at the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that enforces the Whistleblower Protection Act, and at the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which reviews complaints against inspectors general. The statement from Croak noted that the President's Council closed one of its two inquiries into Frazier's activities, and suggested that the closure meant "the allegations were not substantiated."
Frazier's official biography says that he is a member of the President's Council and is chairman of the organization's committee on inspection and evaluation.
Frazier's office is responsible for monitoring the expenditure of $6 billion a year through the Commerce Department, which, among other functions, oversees the National Weather Service and the Patent and Trademark Office.
Frazier was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1999 after his predecessor, Francis D. DeGeorge, resigned amid controversy. DeGeorge later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conflict-of-interest charge related to job discussions he had with a contractor.