The inspector general (IG) of the Corporation for National and Community Service is being removed by President Barack Obama, a week after the IG 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.
Gerald Walpin, an appointee of President George W. Bush who has served as the corporation’s IG for more than two years, could not be reached for comment yesterday, and a spokesman for his office said neither the office nor Walpin could say anything about the removal.
Officials insisted that Walpin’s removal was not connected to recent controversies but was merely a routine change that came with a change in administrations. But those routine changes are rarely announced or characterized as “removal.”
A statement issued by Nicola Goren, acting CEO of the corporation, said that board chairman Alan Solomont and vice chair Stephen Goldsmith fully supported the move. CNCS spokeswoman Ranit Schmelzer would not say if they requested Walpin’s removal. The announcement said he has 30 days to vacant the office.
The action leaves the top four positions at CNCS – chief executive officer, chief operating officer, chief financial officer and inspector general – vacant or filled temporarily, at a time when the corporation is charged with increasing its capacity to 250,000 volunteers by 2017. By then the budget is expected to rise to nearly $6 billion annually, from $1.19 billion.
Maria Eitel, a Nike vice president chosen by Obama to lead CNCS, abruptly withdrew her name late last month, five weeks after her selection was announced, citing health problems. The president’s announcement of the choice of Eitel was made with great public fanfare, but her withdrawal was also announced through a statement from Goren, released late on the Friday before Memorial Day.
There is no indication when new leadership will be chosen, though Obama has made service a hallmark of his administration.
Some decisions about CNCS are being made by First Lady Michelle Obama, according to service advocates (who asked not to be named). Last week, Mrs. Obama announced that her chief of staff, Jackie Norris, would move to CNCS as a senior adviser. Officials said yesterday that Norris is scheduled to arrive on June 22.
Asked why the announcement of Walpin’s removal came late Wednesday from CNCS instead of the White House, Schmelzer of CNCS said it’s because Walpin – who serves at the pleasure of the president – is a corporation employee.
Funding for the largest AmeriCorps program – the Teaching Fellows Program, run by the Research Foundation of the City University of New York – is in abeyance pending resolution of widespread problems identified in a recent audit. Although Walpin recommended that funding be curtailed and that previous funds (perhaps as much as $75 million) be repaid to the corporation, the corporation has said it will take no action on that matter.
Walpin concluded that nothing was being gained by the grants to CUNY and that the money was simply being used to subsidize an existing and funded program.
At the same time, Walpin was challenging the resolution of charges against Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson stemming from the Hood Corps, a project of St. Hope Academy, which he started in one of the city’s low-income neighborhoods. The IG audit found that the program misused virtually all its funds and did little of what was outlined in its grant proposal.
Specifically, the audit found that Johnson and other officials of Neighborhood Corps used AmeriCorps volunteers to recruit students for a charter school run by its parent program, improperly paid at two school employees with AmeriCorps funds for duties they did not perform, improperly used volunteers to perform personal errands for Johnson (including washing his car and driving him to personal appearances) and used the AmeriCorps volunteers to engage in political activities in connection with a board of education election.
Johnson, who was elected mayor in November, was barred from receiving federal grant money – the most serious action that the agency can take again a person or program.
When questions were raised about whether Johnson’s city would therefore be ineligible to receive federal stimulus funds, a settlement was reached with the U.S. attorney’s office calling for repayment of about half the grant money. Johnson was to pay a portion of the money, with the agency he had headed paying the remainder over five years. The ban on funds to Johnson was also lifted.
In a letter to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), head of the Senate committee that oversees the corporation, and other congressional leaders, Walpin objected to the settlement, saying St. Hope was insolvent and likely would not be able to repay the money.
Walpin, who as inspector general usually would have been involved in any settlement, was cut out of the deal after the acting U.S. attorney filed a complaint with the Integrity Committee of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.
No one from the committee returned calls inquiring about that matter and a copy of the complaint has not been released. The complaint appears to center on claims that the U.S. attorney’s office learned about the action against Johnson from a local newspaper. Walpin’s office maintains that office was notified of the pending action months before.