Sunday Ethics Catch-Up, 5/17/2020: Consequentialism, Graft, Firing the IGs And More Proof Of NFL Rot, As If You Needed Any

Good day!

Lots of ethics flotsam and jetsam hanging around, mostly on my office floor…

1. Speaking of the NFL, the most unethical sports organization extant…Four NFL players were taken into police custody in a span of less than 24 hours from yesterday morning to yesterday evening. First Washington Redskins wide receiver Cody Latimer, was arrested after an incident that started with shots being fired. He was booked on charges of assault in the second degree, menacing, illegal discharge of a firearm, prohibited use of a weapon and reckless endangerment. Later Saturday, Seahawks cornerback Quinton Dunbar and Giants cornerback Deandre Baker  turned themselves in after arrest warrants were issued for the two players. Baker was accused of using a semi-automatic firearm last week to rob multiple people, with Dunbar’s help, of more than $11,000 in cash plus watches and other valuables worth more than $60,000. Then, last night, Bills defensive lineman Ed Oliver was arrested on charges of DWI and unlawful possession of a weapon.

Even for the NFL, which has more players arrested and charged with felonies in any single season as Major League Baseball has had in the last 40 years, this was impressive.  The sport recruits its stars from among fake college students who receive little education while being pampered and idolized, with the predictable result.

2. Firing the IGs. President Trump’s latest controversy involves firing the State Department’s Inspector General Steve Linick. This is the latest of several such firings: before this, we saw the dumping of then-Inspector General for the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson for his role in the whistleblower complaint that prompted the Ukraine probe, and the firing of Glenn Fine, the inspector general overseeing pandemic relief. Continue reading

It’s Just One Small Episode In The Vast Accountability, Integrity And Competence Void That Is The Federal Government, But It May Answer Many Questions…

Kimberly Graves appealing her VA demotion, not because she denies gaming the system and sucking up taxpayer money, but because she feels she should get away with it.

Kimberly Graves, appealing her VA demotion, not because she denies gaming the system and sucking up taxpayer money, but because she feels she should get away with it.

As essential background, please read this excerpt from the Veterans Administration’s inspector general’s report regarding “Inappropriate Use of Position and Misuse of Relocation Program and Incentives,” from last fall:

As part of our assessment of VA’s relocation expense program (PCS program), we reviewed records related to the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) reassignment of 7 General Schedule (GS) Grade 15 employees who were promoted to Senior Executive Service (SES) positions and 15 SES employees who moved to different SES positions in fiscal years (FYs) 2013, 2014, and 2015. VBA management used moves of senior executives as a method to justify annual salary increases and used VA’s PCS program to pay moving expenses for these employees. Annual salary increases totaled about $321,000, and PCS relocation expenses totaled about $1.3 million. Additionally, VBA paid $140,000 in unjustified relocation incentives. In total, VA spent about $1.8 million on the reassignments. While we do not question the need to reassign some staff to manage a national network of VAROs, we concluded that VBA inappropriately utilized VA’s PCS program for the benefit of its SES workforce.

Ms. Kimberly Graves was reassigned from her position as the Director of VBA’s Eastern Area Office to the position of Director, St. Paul VARO, effective October 19, 2014. VA paid $129,467.56 related to Ms. Graves’ PCS move. We determined that Ms. Graves also inappropriately used her position of authority for personal and financial benefit when she participated personally and substantially in creating the St. Paul VARO vacancy and then volunteering for the vacancy.

Mr. Antione Waller, former St. Paul VARO Director, told us Ms. Graves initiated discussion with him about relocating to the Philadelphia VARO. Once he expressed a willingness to accept the reassignment, she did an apparent “bait and switch.” She told him that the Philadelphia position was no longer available and he would be considered for the Baltimore VARO Director position. When he said he was not willing to move to Baltimore, Ms. Graves told him, “you will probably get another call, this probably won’t be the last conversation about Baltimore.” In an email, Ms. Beth McCoy, who at the time was the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations and Ms. Rubens’ subordinate, told Ms. Graves that she spoke to Mr. Waller and told him his name was already submitted to the VA Secretary for Baltimore, so “saying no now is not a clean or easy option.” Once the St. Paul Director position was vacant, Ms. Graves said she contacted Ms. Rubens and said, “I’d like to throw my name in for consideration for St. Paul … I feel like I’ve done my time and I’d like to put my name in.”

Ms. Rubens’ and Ms. Graves’ reassignments resulted in a significant decrease in job responsibilities, yet both retained their annual salaries—$181,497 and $173,949, respectively. Based on Federal regulations, we determined VA could not reduce their annual salaries upon reassignment despite the decrease in the scope of their responsibilities. However, a senior executive’s annual salary can be reduced if the individual receives a less than fully successful annual summary rating, fails to meet performance requirements for a critical element, or, as a disciplinary or adverse action resulting from conduct related activity.

We made criminal referrals to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Columbia, regarding official actions orchestrated by Ms. Rubens and Ms. Graves. Formal decisions regarding prosecutorial merit are pending. We provided 12 recommendations to VA to increase oversight of VA’s PCS program and to determine the appropriate administrative actions to take, if any, against senior VBA officials.

Got that? Graves gamed the system to reduce her responsibilities while keeping her salary, and received almost $130,000 in taxpayer money as moving expenses, which, as the rest of the IG’s report documents, are routinely inflated by the VA. Continue reading

Wait…WHAT? Something Is Missing From This Ethics Story….

please-move-along-theres-nothing-to-see-here-1

From the Washington Post:

“Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson put the agency’s former inspector general on administrative leave late Thursday, the same day The Washington Post revealed a congressional investigation’s finding that the former watchdog had tailored reports to the liking of senior Obama administration officials. A Senate investigative report concluded that Charles K. Edwards, who served as acting inspector general at the agency from 2011 until this past December, had directed altering and delaying critical investigative reports and audits at the request of top political appointees in the department”

In that story, we learned that  Edwards, who served as acting DHS inspector general from 2011 through 2013, routinely socialized with department leaders and gave them inside information about the timing and findings of investigations.  The objective, which staff members said that Edwards was confident he had in the bag, was White House support for his position to be made permanent. A year-long bipartisan investigation also concluded that Edwards improperly consulted with top political advisers to then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and acquiesced to their suggestions about the wording and timing of his supposedly objective reports. Whistleblowers told the panel that Edwards ordered them to remove derogatory information about the Secret Service in the findings regarding the Service’s prostitution scandal, and also evidence implicating a White House staff member. Other whistleblowers alleged deletions and alterations in other reports by Edwards. Investigators told the Post they were able to confirm the improper deletions and delays in several reports, but did not reach a conclusion on the Secret Service-related allegations because the DHS, which is, as we all know, part of the most transparent administration ever. declined to provide Edwards’s e-mails about the Secret Service incident. Continue reading

Inspector Generals, Intimidation, Integrity and The IRS Scandal

IG J. Russell George. NOW I get it!

Treasury Dept. IG  J. Russell George. NOW I get it!

I certainly feel ignorant and foolish about this. Silly me: I always thought that inspector generals, those charged with flagging and investigating incompetence, corruption and wrongdoing in our government, were independent and objective, and beyond political influence from above. Why did I think that? I thought that because without such independence, what we may be getting in these supposedly honest and thorough IG reports is not the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but rather what the particular IG thinks he or she can get away with and still keep the job. Was I the only one who didn’t know this?

Thus the popular shrugging talking point by Obama Administration defenders on the partisan payroll (Jay Carney, White House staff, enabling members of Congress, Axelplouffe, etc.) and off of it (the news media) that the IRS inspector general J. Russell George “investigated” and found no political influence in the decision to target and impede conservative organizations is even more dishonest that I originally thought. That oft-repeated statement was always misleading spin, because George, by his own admission, only performed an audit, which is supposed to be the prelude to a full investigation. Now, however, a former IG has explained that inspector generals who displease the Obama high command risk losing their jobs. (Presumably this has always been a peril of the IG job, so I am not suggesting that this unacceptable state of affairs is unique to this administration.)

In his testimony before Congress, George said that he never was able to determine who, if anyone, directed the ideologically-based scrutiny, because no one would tell him. Former IG Gerald Walpin writes, Continue reading

An Ethics Muffin Wreck

Tim Matheson in “Animal House,” as “Justice Department Inspector General”

In the end, it was Ethics Bob who saw the light first. Responding to last month’s Ethics Alarms post about the Justice Department’s inspector general flagging extravagant costs for conferences, Bob Stone, a business ethics expert and blogger who comes from a long career with the Defense Department, wrote this:

“As a sometimes victim of smear-by-IG, I’d recommend turning down the outrage. Just as there never was a $400 hammer, there probably wasn’t a $16 muffin. I’ve been involved with a lot of government conferences—I’ve sponsored a few—and my experience is that the people are as diligent with expenses an informed taxpayers would like them to be. IG’s records are built on how many outrages they turn up, and they often manufacture them.”

Continue reading

Why Doesn’t This Government Ethics Alarm Go Off…Or Does It Even Exist?

"Let's see...cheese on a Ritz, or Beef Wellington...Hell, let's spring for the Wellington--everyone OK with that?"

I just don’t understand it. I never have.

In a report released today, the Justice Department’s inspector general revealed that U.S. Justice Department agencies spent absurd amounts for lavish food at conferences, in one case serving $16 muffins, in another dishing out beef Wellington appetizers that cost $7.32 per serving, and in yet another, a March 2009 conference of the Office on Violence Against Women, serving Cracker Jacks, popcorn and candy bars at a single break to the tune of $32 per person. Yum!

The abuse isn’t unique to the Obama Administration, but it has gotten worse. The inspector general reviewed a sample of ten Justice Department conferences held between October 2007 and September 2009 at a cost of $4.4 million, a period that included the administrations of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama. The Justice Department spent $73.3 million on conferences in fiscal 2009, compared with $47.8 million a year earlier, according to the report. Continue reading