An inspector general’s report last fall, which somehow escaped publicity, found that political appointees at the Department of Labor violated contracting rules on one project and spent what many would consider an absurd amount of money on another. An earlier IG letter indicated the same officials were involved in misusing department resources on yet a third project.
The first two findings came explicitly as a direct result of a reportorial column of mine right here on NRO on February 16, 2014. The third involved another aspect of my report, although that particular investigation preceded that piece.
Plenty of other sources have surfaced in the meantime with similar or related accounts of questionable activity at the Obama Labor Department, all of which, now that the IG report is out, bear further scrutiny. (Several of them, but not all, came out in excellent reports in other publications, one at The Daily Caller and another at Forbes.)
The IG’s investigation came in response to a request from then-senator Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), specifically mentioning my NRO piece. Elliot P. Lewis, the assistant inspector general for audit, wrote to T. Michael Kerr, assistant secretary for administration and management, about the allegation in my article that “the Department of Labor (DOL) awarded a $100,000 no-bid contract to an outside public relations firm . . . to promote a book club.” (Yes, a book club.) As it turned out, there were two contracts involved, to the tune of $208,970. Lewis wrote:
We found: 1) the Department [wrongfully] limited competition . . . 2) the Department did not properly consider the type of contract to be used; and 3) the statement of work did not adequately define the Department’s requirements. We also found the Department did not administer the task orders appropriately in that it . . . could not demonstrate via contemporaneous evidence that it monitored the work performed and hours worked by the contractor.
Lewis went on to explain his analysis in detail, and then concluded: “[D]ue to the lack of appropriate oversight, DOL had no assurance it actually received the quantity and quality of services for which it paid.”
Additionally, last May 21, Inspector General Scott Dahl had reported back to Senator Coburn on numerous other matters raised in my NRO report. Most significantly, Dahl was able to put a partial price tag on the extravagant use of department resources to produce 233 sets of glossy, highly political posters to be placed in the elevators of the DOL’s Frances Perkins Building in Washington, D.C. (There are 23 elevators in the Perkins building, and the posters were changed weekly.) The IG was able to recover invoices for 192 of the 233 sets of posters; not even counting the cost of in-house staff time, the total price for the 192 sets of posters was $506,334, or $2,637 per set of posters. That’s exorbitant.
As I had reported:
According to Hilda Solis, Obama’s first secretary of labor, the posters “celebrate our achievements, recognize our colleagues, and articulate our mission.” In practice, most of these “heroes” of the American labor movement are far more valued by the political Left than by the Right. Among them: Mark Ayers, a labor leader who used public speeches to blast “greedy right-wing bastards.” Dolores Huerta, the labor leader and César Chavez associate who serves on the board of the People for the American Way and the Feminist Majority Foundation. Labor-party founder Tony Mazzocchi, who also helped found the peacenik/freezenik Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.
And posters celebrating “LGBT Pride” featured San Francisco administrator Harvey Milk and civil-rights advocate (and onetime Communist-party member) Bayard Rustin.
The latter caused a real stir. It read: “Bayard Rustin — a labor leader, civil rights advocate and openly gay man — paved the way for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to make their own unique contributions to the world of work, the U.S. Department of Labor, our country and the world.” A number of the Rustin posters were ripped down. Two sources claimed that the culprits actually were black employees angry that homosexual advocacy was being equated in kind and importance with black Americans’ struggle for civil rights.
Finally — or rather, chronologically speaking, first, back in 2013 — the IG had already indicated, on another matter on which I later reported, that an e-mail from Obama’s DOL public-affairs chief, Carl Fillichio, had instructed numerous department employees to vote in an online religious poll to declare Frances Perkins, the New Deal–era secretary of labor, a favorite saint. (As the saying goes, “You can’t make this stuff up.”)
As the IG noted, this e-missive was “an inappropriate use of government resources, and an inappropriate request by a senior level DOL official given the religious overtones of the email.” (Fillichio later told NRO that DOL’s ethics attorneys “concluded that the activity ‘did not violate any law, regulation, or policy’ and ‘determined that the activity did not result in a computer security breach.’”)
In a time of federal budgets just shy of $4 trillion, the hundreds of thousands of dollars at issue in these incidents and initiatives may seem like child’s play — mere rounding-off money. That’s true enough. But when practices like these are spread through the entire federal government, “pretty soon,” as the late Senator Everett Dirksen put it, “you’re talking real money.”
When combined with other reports alleging a hostile work environment and other mistreatment of longtime career employees by Obama political appointees — within the very department of government tasked with policing and punishing such behaviors in private businesses — it appears that the Obama DOL is, in microcosm, a perfect example of the abusive nature so often reported of the Obamaites occupying the political rungs of departments throughout the federal government.
All of which is why the congressional inquiries into the level of independence of inspectors general, led by Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R., Wisc.) in the Senate and by Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) in the House, are so important. They come in response to formal complaints from IGs that the Obama administration has put “serious limitations” on their necessary work of holding government departments accountable.
But that’s a story for another day. For now, we do have this report from the DOL’s inspector general, and it shows an administration that is anything but a poster child for saintliness.