Commerce IG investigated on claims of improper travel

A senior Commerce Department official is cooperating with three investigations into charges that he routinely took personal trips at government expense, inappropriately promoted and gave bonuses to select employees, retaliated against whistleblowers, and destroyed documents related to an investigation, his office said Friday.

Officials said Johnnie Frazier, the Clinton-appointed inspector general at Commerce, is under scrutiny by the House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigations arm, as well as by the Office of Special Counsel and the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, a group of presidentially appointed IGs.

"Numerous current and former employees have made … credible allegations of serious and widespread fraud, waste and abuse within your office that involves not only you personally, but also many members of your current management team," wrote Democratic and Republican leaders of the committee that oversees the Commerce Department and the heads of its investigations subcommittee, in a nine-page letter demanding documents.

The committee detailed allegations by unnamed accusers that Frazier regularly took advantage of government travel accounts to needlessly extend trips and authorized excessive domestic and foreign travel for himself and staff members. Among the alleged abuses was a meeting for senior officials in Philadelphia, at which Frazier reportedly ended a training session early so he could gamble in nearby Atlantic City.

The committee also is looking into allegations that he arranged a trip to Boston and New York that had little business value, but accommodated a personal obligation to a friend. The panel is investigating charges that the former deputy inspector general was reassigned after refusing to approve expenses from the trip, and that the former counsel to the IG was reassigned on suspicion that she had filed a complaint with the council.

"The Office of Inspector General and the department are cooperating fully with these investigations and look forward to their speedy resolution," said Carolyn Croak, acting counsel, in a statement Friday.

Croak said the IG office would not comment on ongoing investigations, but that an investigation into the Boston trip by the IG group concluded that "the allegations were not substantiated and the matter is closed." She declined to give further details of this closed investigation and a representative of the IG council could not be reached.

Croak said the IG council has opened another investigation into Frazier's activities and OSC, which handles whistleblower complaints, also is investigating.

In its list of alleged infractions, the House committee also described a no-bid contract for $150,000 that Frazier "might have improperly arranged." The committee was informed that the IG allegedly bypassed good candidates to promote close friends in the office, inappropriately awarded bonuses, and may have "destroyed, altered and/or tampered with evidence" during investigations by OSC and the IG council.

In a wide-ranging document request, the committee gave Frazier until the end of next week to produce all travel records for 15 IG employees over the last five years, as well as personnel records for 17 people, and any documents relating to investigations, senior-level meetings or personnel complaints from the last five years.

Citing the allegations of tampering with evidence, the committee asked Frazier to hire an unaffiliated party such as another inspector general to oversee the document request. Croak declined to identify whether an outside group had been engaged, but said, "We're trying to make all those arrangements."

In comments on the investigation, Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said, "It looks like something's been very wrong with Mr. Frazier's operation for a very long time. Initial evidence suggests that he's somehow managed to become exempt from the norms of honest behavior, and that's especially troubling in someone who is trusted to gauge the honest behavior of others."

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