Obama’s Amer­iCrooks and cronies

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Michelle Malkin

Pres­i­dent Obama promised he would end “Wash­ing­ton games.” But his abrupt fir­ing of the Amer­iCorps in­spec­tor gen­eral is more of the same. The brew­ing scan­dal smells like the Belt­way crony­ism of the Bush years. And the ap­par­ent med­dling of first lady Michelle Obama in the mat­ter smacks of the cor­rup­tion of the Clin­ton years.

If Mr. Obama keeps up with this “change,” we’ll be back to the Water­gate era by Christ­mas.

News of Amer­iCorps watch­dog Ger­ald Walpin’s un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous dis­missal first broke last week in Youth To­day, an in­de­pen­dent na­tional pub­li­ca­tion fo­cused on the vol­un­teerism sec­tor.

Mr. Walpin was ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in 2007 and has served well, hon­or­ably and ef­fec­tively. Too ef­fec­tively.

His re­moval came a week af­ter he “ques­tioned the el­i­gi­bil­ity of the largest and most ex­pen­sive Amer­iCorps pro­gram, and while the IG was con­test­ing the ‘pro­pri­ety’ of a set­tle­ment made with a mayor for al­leged mis­use of Amer­iCorps funds,” ac­cord­ing to Youth To­day.

The first tax­payer-sub­si­dized pro­gram is the Teach­ing Fel­lows Pro­gram, run by the Re- search Foun­da­tion of the City Uni­ver­sity of New York. Walpin’s au­dit — which can be found on­line — un­cov­ered a mul­ti­tude of grant vi­o­la­tions, in­clud­ing crim­i­nal back­ground check lapses and “per­va­sive prob­lems of el­i­gi­bil­ity, time­keep­ing and doc­u­men­ta­tion.”

Walpin’s of­fice ques­tioned du­pli­cate ed­u­ca­tional awards of more than $16 mil­lion and costs worth nearly $775,000. CUNY re­fused to re­turn ex­cess funds that it had drawn down, failed to re­vise pro­ce­dures to pre­vent such grant abuse and re­fused to pro­vide proof doc­u­ment­ing that its Amer­iCorps par­tic­i­pants ac­tu­ally ex­isted. Walpin ad­vised Amer­iCorps’ par­ent or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Cor­po­ra­tion for Na­tional and Com­mu­nity Ser­vice (CNCS), to cut off any new fund­ing and re-ex­am­ine past gov­ern­ment fund­ing to­tal­ing up­ward of $75 mil­lion.

CNCS, now chaired by Demo­cratic mega-fundraiser Alan Solomont, has ig­nored Walpin’s rec­om­men­da­tions. The Obama watch­dogs are snooz­ing. Ex­pect the same kind of lack­adaisi­cal ap­proach to­ward polic­ing the $6 bil­lion Amer­iCorps ex­pan­sion and new na­tional ser­vice bill signed into law by Mr. Obama in April.

The sec­ond pro­gram Walpin chal­lenged is the non­profit St. HOPE Academy, run by Obama sup­porter Kevin John­son, the Demo­cratic mayor of Sacra­mento and a for­mer NBA bas­ket­ball star. In a spe­cial May 2009 re­port, Mr. Walpin’s of­fice blew the whis­tle on a highly politi­cized U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice set­tle­ment with John­son and his deputy, Dana Gon­za­lez. The pair ex­ploited nearly $900,000 in Amer­iCorps fund­ing for per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal gain. Based on Mr. Walpin’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion last year, CNCS sus­pended their ac­cess to fed­eral funds af­ter de­ter­min­ing that they were:

Us­ing Amer­iCorps mem­bers to “re­cruit stu­dents for St. HOPE Academy”;

Us­ing Amer­iCorps mem­bers for po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties in con­nec­tion with the “Sacra­mento board of ed­u­ca­tion elec­tion”;

As­sign­ing grant-funded Amer­iCorps mem­bers to per­form ser­vices “per­son­ally ben­e­fit­ing John­son,” such as “driv­ing (him) to per­sonal ap­point­ments, wash­ing (his) car and run­ning per­sonal er- rands”; and

Im­prop­erly us­ing Amer­iCorps “mem­bers to per­form non-Amer­iCorps cler­i­cal and other ser­vices” that “were out­side the scope of the grant and there­fore were im­per­mis­si­ble” for “the ben­e­fit of St. HOPE.”

But in the wake of Mr. John­son’s may­oral victory and Mr. Obama’s elec­tion in Novem­ber, the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Sacra­mento rushed to set­tle with the new mayor so he could avail him­self of fed­eral stim­u­lus funds and other gov­ern­ment money. It was, Walpin said in his spe­cial re­port last month, “akin to de­cid­ing that, while one should not put a fox in a small chicken coop, it is fine to do so in a large chicken coop! The set­tle­ment [. . .] leaves the un­mis­tak­able im­pres­sion that re­lief from a sus­pen­sion can be bought.”

Shortly af­ter, the White House an­nounced that it had “lost con­fi­dence” in Mr. Walpin. With Mr. Walpin’s re­moval, the top man­age­ment po­si­tions at CNCS are now open. The decks are clear to in­stall lack­eys who will pro­tect the gov­ern­ment vol­un­teerism in­dus­try and its Demo­cratic cronies. And a chill­ing ef­fect has un­doubt­edly taken hold in ev­ery other in­spec­tor gen­eral’s of­fice in Wash­ing­ton.

GOP Sen. Charles Grass­ley of Iowa is press­ing Mr. Obama for more de­tails. Tough ques­tions need to be asked of the first lady, who has “taken the lead” in se­lect­ing Amer­iCorps‘ man­agers, ac­cord­ing to Youth To­day. Her for­mer chief of staff, Jackie Nor­ris, will serve as a “se­nior ad­viser” to CNCS beginning next week. What role did they play in Mr. Walpin’s sack­ing? And why?

Mrs. Obama’s in­ter­est is more than pass­ing. She ran the Amer­iCorps-funded non­profit Pub­lic Al­lies in Chicago from 1993-1996 and served on its na­tional board un­til 2001. Like so many of the Amer­iCorps re­cip­i­ents in­ves­ti­gated by the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s of­fice over the years, Pub­lic Al­lies was found to have vi­o­lated ba­sic el­i­gi­bil­ity and com­pli­ance rules. A Jan­uary 2007 au­dit re­ported that the group lacked in­ter­nal con­trols ver­i­fy­ing that re­cip­i­ents of ed­u­ca­tion grants and liv­ing al­lowances were le­gal cit­i­zens or per­ma­nent res­i­dents as re­quired by law.

Trans­parency. Ac­count­abil­ity. Fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity. In Obama World, th­ese are prov­ing to be noth­ing more than words. Just words.

Michelle Malkin is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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