U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell has decided to create a Justice Department strike force to coordinate and broaden the federal investigations into corruption at the General Services Administration, The Washington Post learned yesterday.
The strike force, modeled after Justice Department strike forces that investigate and prosecute organized crime, would pool the investigative efforts of the FBI, GSA's own office of investigations, the Internal Revenue Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Postal Service's inspection service.
Terrence B. Adamson, Bell's spokesman, confirm late yesterday that the strike force, also called an investigative "team," be announced later this week.
"It will expedite handling of matters referred by GSA," he said. "GSA will refer any case involving "likely suspicion" of criminal wrongdoing. "The idea is a coordinated approach."
Federal investigators so far have established that millions of dollars have been paid by GSA for office supplies and repair work that has never provided GSA, which furnishes office and supplies for federal workers. What has been uncovered to date represents the biggest federal scandal involving money in U.S. government history, according to Vincent R. Alto, GSA's special counsel.
Bell decided to create a special strike force after Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs' subcommittee on federal spending practices, told him federal spending practices, told him Monday of his concern that some federal law enforcement officials appeared to be spending more time investigating each other than criminals. Chiles is understood to have broached the possibility of a "task force" to coordinate the probes.
By establishing a strike force, Bell expects to stop the infighting among competing agencies and fix responsibility for the probes on a single team leader who would report to Philip B. Heymann, chief of the Justice Department's criminal division.
Bell has already received approval from the Office of Management and Budget for the new strike force and has obtained tentative agreement from the agencies that would participate, sources said.
Several of those agencies met Monday with Alto to be briefed on what GSA investigators have found to date.
The strike force would start operations as soon as its chief, who will be a Justice Department lawyer, is selected. Those involved in the GSA investigations are said to be looking for an aggressive prosecutor with an established national reputation who would command enough respect to direct competing agencies.
The strike force, which would be based in Washington, will not impinge on existing GSA investigations being conducted by the office s of U.S. attorneys Earl J. Silbert in Washington and Russell T. Baker in Baltimore. Although its primary focus would be GSA, the strike force could look into similar corruption at other government agencies, sources said.