Advocacy groups press Biden to name new watchdog at housing agency

This article features Government Accountability Project and was originally published here.

Three advocacy groups are urging President Biden to designate a temporary replacement for a resigning inspector general to ensure that a senior official accused of misconduct does not take over at the end of the month.

Last week, Inspector General Laura Wertheimer announced her resignation from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) effective July 30. Pressure had been building for Biden to remove her following a scathing watchdog report said she grossly mistreated staff and retaliated against colleagues.

The April report from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency also named Office of Inspector General Chief Counsel Leonard DePasquale and Acting Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Richard Parker as having “abused their authority.”

In a letter sent to the White House on Wednesday, the advocacy groups Empower Oversight, the Government Accountability Project and the Project on Government Oversight said that unless Biden steps in, Wertheimer could appoint a senior official named in the April report to succeed her as inspector general (IG).

“In order to restore public confidence in the FHFA IG, it is essential that you designate a caretaker to oversee the office and break the culture of fear and intimidation found by the Integrity Committee,” the groups wrote.

The letter pointed to examples of “abuse of authority and misconduct” cited in the April report, including Wertheimer calling staff “demeaning nicknames” like Boris and Natasha, the spy villains of “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends.”

Wertheimer also called an employee who cooperated with the probe a “weasel” in front of other staff, and followed by purchasing and distributing the children’s coloring book “Weasels” to her office, according to the report.

Jason Foster, president of Empower Oversight, told The Hill that it’s imperative that the White House take action before July 30.

“The only place that any intervention can occur is the White House, the president,” Foster said. “But if he does nothing, then whoever is designated by the office takes over.”

When reached for comment Thursday, DePasquale said the “succession plan is under review and will be finalized before the end of July.”

He also said he will not be serving as acting inspector general.

Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, the president is allowed to put a temporary IG in place until the Senate confirms a permanent nominee.

The advocacy groups said Biden needs to follow through on remarks he made during a swearing-in ceremony for White House staff on his first day in office, when he said, “If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise I will fire you on the spot.”

“An Inspector General who has abused the power of her office should not be able to designate her preferred successor, especially not one of the senior staff that was also found to have engaged in misconduct,” the groups wrote. “To uphold your administration’s values of decency and dignity as you boldly articulated them in your Inauguration Day promise, we urge you to act on this issue consistent with that promise.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this year, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) called on Biden to fire Wertheimer, citing the Integrity Committee report released in April.

“To put it mildly, the only thing this watchdog appears to hunt is her own employees. She should be removed from office, in a manner consistent with applicable statutory notification requirements,” the senators wrote in a letter.

Grassley, who applauded the news of Wertheimer’s resignation, pressed Biden to act on the request in Wednesday’s letter.

“Allowing someone that was found by CIGIE to have acted so inappropriately to become the acting IG is unacceptable. I urge President Biden to quickly name an appropriate acting IG and nominate a qualified individual to fill the post permanently as soon as practical,” Grassley said Thursday.

“The FHFA has been without a qualified IG for far too long already,” he added.