Iraq watchdog is target of inquiry

Bowen has probed waste, corruption in reconstruction effort

May 04, 2007|By New York Times News Service

A federal official whose investigations of waste and corruption in Iraq have repeatedly embarrassed the Bush administration is being investigated himself by an oversight committee with close links to the White House and by the ranking Republican on the House Government Reform Committee.

The investigation of the official, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., originated with a complaint put together by roughly half a dozen former employees who appear to have left his office on unhappy terms, said several officials familiar with the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

Both the White House and a spokesman for the Republican congressman, Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, said yesterday that the investigations were not started in retribution for the work undertaken in Iraq by Bowen, who runs the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

But the investigations are coming to light just a few months after Bowen's office narrowly escaped what amounted to a termination clause tucked away in a large military authorization bill by staff members of another Republican congressman. A bipartisan group of lawmakers later managed to reverse that provision, but the latest action has renewed suspicions that Bowen - a Republican - has come to be seen as a serious political liability by his own party.

One of the former employees who filed the complaint, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern that he would face reprisals, agreed that all of those who brought the misconduct accusations had been unhappy with demotions, terminations or other sanctions during their time in the inspector general's office.

"I think probably in each case, yes," the former employee said. "Some were outright fired, and some were demoted."

Even so, he said, all of them believed that they had seen numerous instances of genuine misconduct during their time in the office, and in 2006 they sent those accusations to the President's Council on Integrity and Excellence, an organization that was specifically created to investigate allegations of misconduct by inspectors general at federal agencies.

A letter from the council to the inspector general's office dated May 8, 2006, and obtained by The Times says that the council decided that three of the accusations were credible enough to investigate.

Those accusations involve fairly narrow issues: a payment to a contractor that the employees believed was unjustified; a project to produce a type of report on reconstruction that they maintain is outside the congressional mandate of the office; and what the employees contend is an inflated estimate of how much money investigations by the office have saved U.S. taxpayers.

The council is drawn from the executive branch, and its chairman is Clay Johnson III, a deputy budget director and longtime friend of the president.

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