Powerful House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) has abruptly suspended the contracts of “60 investigators who had worked for his committee rooting out fraud, waste and abuse, effective immediately.” The investigators were “brought on to handle the extraordinary level of fraud investigations facing the panel.”
Lewis is currently under federal investigation over corruption charges reportedly uncovered during the Duke Cunningham investigation. He has spent nearly $800,000 in legal fees since May.
Lewis’ spokesman yesterday tried to portray the suspensions as part of a bipartisan review that occured with the support of the committee’s ranking member Rep. David Obey (D-WI):
Committee spokesman John Scofield said Thursday that the contracts were not renewed because the panel is conducting a “bipartisan review” of the unit’s staff.
“Frankly, the work we’ve been getting as of late has not been that good,” Scofield said. “There is nothing sinister going on.”
Scofield said the review has the backing of ranking Democratic House appropriator David R. Obey of Wisconsin.
But a source tells ThinkProgress that while Committee Democrats agreed that there were problems with the investigative staff that needed to be addressed; committee Democrats had not been consulted prior to the suspension of the investigators. The source also said that problems with the investigations unit were only part of an overall issue involving the alarming deterioration of the committee’s oversight activities.
The Appropriations Committee makes decisions on nearly a trillion dollars a year in federal spending yet the diligence with which the committee monitors the use of those funds has declined steadily over the past decade, with the administrative problems of the Surveys and Investigations unit being only part of a much larger problem. In 2003, Lewis personally intervened to block a committee review of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans that was responsible for a great deal of the misinformation used by the administration to justify the invasion of Iraq.