If you can’t spin it, quash it

In January of this year, the Inspector General of the Defense Department (DoD IG) issued a report exonerating the Pentagon of wrongdoing in connection with a public relations program that involved retired military officials who worked as military analysts on television and radio. The DoD IG investigated the matter as a result of reporting by David Barstow of the New York Times which claimed that some of the retired military officers in question used the special access granted them under the program to gain unfair competitive advantage for defense contractors they represented. The DoD IG concluded that Barstow’s allegations were baseless. Despite that conclusion Barstow received a Pulitzer Prize last month for his reporting on this matter.

Now, Bill Gertz of the Washington Times reports that the DoD IG has withdrawn his January report. Gertz calls this move “unusual” and I’m told that it may well be unprecedented. The question thus arises: why did the DoD IG take this extraordinary step?

Gertz says the step was taken “under pressure from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin.” Levin wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on February 2 rejecting the DoD IG’s report and asking Gates to have the IG office conduct a second investigation. As Gertz points out, Levin’s letter “carried additional political weight because [his] committee must confirm or reject the next inspector general.”

The Inspector General Act of 1978 provides.

The Inspector General and OIG staff must be free both in fact and appearance from personal, external, and organizational impairments to independence. .. External impairments to independence occur when the OIG staff is deterred from acting objectively and exercising professional skepticism by pressures, actual or perceived, from management and employees of the reviewed entity or oversight organizations.”
(emphasis added)

Levin’s Senate Committee would certainly seem to constitute an “oversight organization.” And Levin’s letter to Secretary Gates could, I think, be viewed as creating pressure that gave rise to an external impairment to the DoD IG’s independence, or at least the appearance of such an impairment.

It should also be noted that Levin has, in Gertz’s words, “worked closely with the Pentagon IG office in the past.” And, as John has reported, Levin likes to seize on those findings (often dubious) in a DoD IG report that he likes and then twist them into something more damning.

In this case, though, the report presented nothing for Levin to spin, so he used his influence to have the report withdrawn.

Perhaps an outside Inspector General should investigate Levin’s actions and their effect on the independence of the DoD IG.

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