By Kimberly Kindy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 23, 2009
The superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park, John A. Latschar, said Thursday that he is being reassigned to an unspecified desk job in the National Parks Service after public disclosure that he viewed more than 3,400 "sexually-explicit" images on his federal computer over two years.
The misconduct, which Latschar acknowledged in a sworn statement, was found during a year-long investigation by the Interior Department's inspector general and was documented in an internal Aug. 7 report obtained by The Washington Post.
Latschar's reassignment comes after a Post report Monday about the results of the investigator's forensic analysis of his computer hard drive, which showed "significant inappropriate user activity" and numbered the "most sexually-explicit" images at 3,456.
These findings were omitted from a 24-page public report of the inspector general's investigation into Latschar released Sept. 17. The investigation of the longtime Parks Service employee began more than a year ago and was triggered by 17 allegations of misconduct and criminal activity. The report found no criminal actions or conflicts of interests.
Mary L. Kendall, acting inspector general for Interior, has declined to comment on why the computer investigation was not mentioned in the report.
Latschar told the Evening Sun in Pennsylvania that he was being reassigned because of the disclosure of his Internet activity. He added that "there's no excuse" for the behavior but that he was "going through some rough personal and professional times" during the two years he searched for the images. The activity occurred from August 2004 to September 2006.
Latschar has declined interview requests by The Post over the past two weeks and did not respond to questions e-mailed to him Thursday. Latschar said he expects to begin his new assignment next week.
Park Service spokesman David Barna said he could neither confirm nor deny Latschar's job reassignment, saying it is a personnel issue.
Latschar started as superintendent at Gettysburg nearly 15 years ago and became a powerful and polarizing figure. His most controversial action came nearly a decade ago when he successfully pushed to commercially develop the 5,900-acre park, prompting Civil War preservationists to fight his efforts.
At the heart of the development was a new visitors center and museum that Latschar, who has a doctorate in American history, said would be fully financed by a private foundation that he helped create.
However, by the time the museum opened in the spring, costs had jumped from $39.3 million to $135 million, requiring $35 million in public funds.
Investigators were asked to look into the construction costs and potential conflicts between Latschar and the foundation.
Frank Silbey, a former congressional investigator who is a Civil War preservationist, called the report a "whitewash."
"Now that he is being removed, it is long past time for some objective congressional oversight into his stewardship," he said.