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Senator raises questions about USAID inspector general's independence

Dec. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Senate Holds Hearing On Oversight Of Reconstructio
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., (left) has raised questions about the independence of Michael Carroll, the acting inspector general of the U.S. Agency for International Development. (Getty Images)

Managers in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s inspector general’s office “routinely” pressure auditors to drop findings that would reflect poorly on USAID programs and punish those who don’t go along, according to whistleblower allegations cited in a recent letter by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., obtained by Federal Times.

Employees have been asked to “alter or remove significant recommendations regarding allowable contract costs, lax project oversight, and improper accounting,” Coburn said in the Nov. 12 letter to Michael Carroll, the acting head of the IG’s office. When auditors don’t make the requested changes, Coburn said, they are subject to downgrades in performance evaluations and other forms of “systematic professional retaliation.”

The whistleblower allegations raise questions about the office’s independence, Coburn said, and are “particularly relevant” because President Obama has nominated Carroll to become the permanent inspector general.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved the nomination last month after a routine hearing; a spokesman for the committee’s chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez. D-N.J., did not have a timetable Monday for a final Senate confirmation vote.

Carroll, whose official title is deputy inspector general, has headed the IG’s office on an interim basis since 2011 He was not available for an interview Monday. The office is committed to “high-quality, independent oversight,” Chief of Staff Justin Brown said, and thus takes the allegations and Coburn’s concerns “very seriously.”

While Carroll has since replied to Coburn at length, Brown said the IG’s office would not release a copy of the response because it contains sensitive personnel information protected by the Privacy Act.

Coburn’s office also would not provide a copy or comment on whether Carroll’s reply addressed the senator’s concerns.

Coburn is the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The committee’s chairman, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and his staff are looking into the questions raised in the letter, an aide said.

In the letter, Coburn asked Carroll to list any reports or audits for which IG office employees had protested proposed editing changes. Coburn also requested draft copies of all such reports, the justification for removing any auditors’ recommendations, and any disciplinary action taken against the employees involved.

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