Gen. Herbert L. Beckington, 87; USAID Official

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Herbert L. Beckington, 87, a retired Marine lieutenant general and the first inspector general of the U.S. Agency for International Development, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 14 at his home in Alexandria.

Gen. Beckington's 32 years of military service prepared him for a bureaucratic battle of epic proportions at USAID. Over 17 years starting in 1977, he conducted a series of audits that outlined chronic problems of waste, mismanagement and corruption at the agency, which distributed billions of dollars each year in nonmilitary foreign aid.

While seeking to reform spending in the agency, Gen. Beckington became a controversial figure. Three government entities investigated the investigator to determine whether his office's findings had mortally eroded the morale of USAID employees, who were unused to such rigorous scrutiny. Five high-level USAID employees were convicted of crimes between 1989 and 1991, the highest rate of any of the largest federal agencies.

Some employees told the Foreign Service Journal in 1992 that they considered Gen. Beckington "the agency's J. Edgar Hoover -- suspicious, vindictive, eager to think the worst." They especially abhorred a proposal that, during audits and investigations, they take polygraph tests and sign statements swearing that they had complied with every provision of every agency policy.

Gen. Beckington's supporters considered him more of an "Elliot Ness bent on rooting out corruption in an agency he believes is extraordinarily likely to yield to the temptations of malfeasance," said the magazine, which was published by the association that was the bargaining agent for USAID employees.

His supporters saw vindication in an Office of Management and Budget report in mid-1992 recommending that the USAID administrator issue clear policy statements on the importance of ethics.

Gen. Beckington was born in Rockford, Ill., and was a 1943 graduate of The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. He served with an antiaircraft artillery battalion on Tinian and Saipan in the Pacific during World War II and in China after the war.

He received a law degree from Catholic University in 1953, finishing first in his class. He served in Japan and at Marine Corps headquarters in a number of assignments. For more than two years, he was the military aide to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

In 1968, he went to Vietnam, where he commanded the 7th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division.

His last assignment was in 1973 as deputy chief of staff for plans and operations at Marine headquarters. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1975.

He served as a consultant on military matters for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1977 until he took the job with USAID.

Among his military awards were a Distinguished Service Medal and four awards of the Legion of Merit.

Survivors include his wife, Patricia McKee Beckington of Alexandria; two sons, Jeffery S. Beckington of Alexandria and Garth L. Beckington of Mendocino, Calif.; a brother; and three grandchildren.

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