It's not unusual for a new political appointee to come in and clean house. But staff upheaval at two of the largest IG offices in the government has prompted calls for investigations.
IGs, the government's jargon for inspectors general, are the watchdogs for waste, fraud and abuse. Through their auditing and investigative efforts, IGs protect taxpayer dollars and send early warnings to the White House and Congress about programs that need fixing. They are supposed to show independence and, for lack of a better phrase, do the right thing.
But some employees at two IG offices, at the Defense Department and the Health and Human Services Department, are questioning whether their bosses have done right by them. The employees claim that Pentagon IG Joseph E. Schmitz, who took office about eight months ago, and HHS IG Janet Rehnquist, in office for 14 months, have not treated all employees fairly.
At the Pentagon, Schmitz has put three senior executives on temporary assignment. Two of them -- Carol Levy and Thomas Bonnar -- are career federal criminal investigators. Each has served for 26 years in federal law enforcement. The third is Joel Leson, who joined the IG's office in 1991 after a 26-year military career as an Army officer.
Attorneys for the three executives have filed complaints with the interagency IG council and the Office of Special Counsel, which protects whistle-blowers, asking them to investigate the reassignments.
According to the complaint sent to the interagency IG council, Schmitz ordered the executives out of their offices, barred them from talking to co-workers and required them to give up their identification and building badges, any firearms, office keys and cell phones.
"He kept them under surveillance as they gathered their personal effects, ensured that they were escorted out of the building . . . and ordered that their photographs be posted with the building security guards to prevent them from having physical access to the building. In short, Mr. Schmitz treated these three senior executives with unblemished records as criminals, not as senior executives, each with decades of exemplary federal service," attorneys William L. Bransford and Jason S. Hadges said in the complaint.
Issues in the dispute involve the findings of an outside review team that criticized IG operations, allegations that two of the three were tardy in briefing Schmitz on a criminal probe, and questions growing out of an unrelated whistle-blower case.
A spokesman for Schmitz said he would not comment on the dispute because it involved "an ongoing personnel process." The spokesman said the reassignments, which began Aug. 8, would end Dec. 5. He added that the executives had been assigned to special projects and that the temporary assignments did not represent adverse personnel actions against them.
The staff shuffle at HHS also has raised questions about whether staff members were treated fairly. Nineteen IG staff members have retired or have been reassigned since Rehnquist's arrival. Four of the office's six deputy IGs have departed: Two retired, and two were placed on details outside the IG office.
Employees in the HHS IG office allege that Rehnquist singled out staff members to either retire or find a job elsewhere.
The personnel changes prompted three senators -- Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and John Breaux (D-La.) -- to ask for an investigation by the General Accounting Office.
Rehnquist, in a letter to GAO, said she welcomed the congressional review. A spokesman for HHS said, "Don't assume that charges made are accurate as to what has occurred or not occurred in the office."
As with most personnel disputes, there are more questions than answers about what happened in the IG offices. As one IG employee said: "This is all unusual. It's not unusual for an incoming political appointee to put in his team, but do you have to go to these lengths to do it?"
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