Watchdogs applaud Obama’s pick to oversee stimulus

Government watchdogs on Monday hailed the selection of Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney to head the new Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, an independent panel that will provide oversight of the $787 billion stimulus package.

Devaney will report directly to Vice President Joe Biden, who will oversee the administration's economic recovery spending.

"We are really excited," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. "He is really one of the most solid IGs in the federal government, and he is exactly the type of person we need in this role."

The recovery board, which will have a budget of $84 million, is the central organization monitoring how stimulus funds are disbursed. The group can hold hearings, issue subpoenas, hire staff and sign support contracts.

The panel will review whether stimulus-related contracts and grants are being issued legally, transparently and competitively; and examine if there are sufficient and adequately trained acquisition and grant personnel to implement the spending and promote interagency cooperation, the Recovery Act states.

Devaney's group also will be tasked with "auditing or reviewing covered funds to determine whether wasteful spending, poor contract or grant management, or other abuses are occurring and referring matters it considers appropriate for investigation to the inspector general for the agency that disbursed the covered funds."

The board will submit to Congress and the administration flash reports on potential management and funding problems requiring immediate attention, as well as quarterly and annual reports. All reports will be available at Recovery.gov, or at a new recovery board Web site, which will launch soon.

The deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, a position that currently is vacant, will co-chair the panel.

Other board members include the inspectors general of the Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, and Treasury departments and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

Steve Ellis, an investigator with the watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, said, "Devaney is an excellent pick to the lead the board. He is a tested, experienced professional at conducting oversight and has worked hard on taxpayers' behalf during his career. To be sure, it is a big task, but Devaney will do the best job possible."

And while Brian said she remains troubled by the potential for waste in the recovery plan -- along with the lack of protection for federal whistleblowers -- the selection of Devaney "assuages some of my concerns."

Devaney said his panel would provide taxpayers with a "historic level" of accountability and transparency.

"I intend to develop a board [that] will work tirelessly to prevent fraud, waste and abuse in a collaborative manner with all levels of federal, state and local governments," he said. "Telling stakeholders what they need to know, not necessarily what they want to know, has been a hallmark of my federal government career."

Interior's inspector general since 1999 and a former head of criminal enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency, Devaney has developed a reputation for rooting out corruption and government mismanagement.

Last September, he announced the results of a two-year investigation into widespread misconduct at the Minerals Management Service's royalty-in-kind program offices in Denver and Washington.

A former white-collar crime and fraud investigator with the Secret Service, Devaney also played a key role in exposing the ties between top Interior officials and now-imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"For nearly a decade as inspector general at the Interior Department, Earl has doggedly pursued waste, fraud and mismanagement," President Obama told a meeting of the nation's governors on Monday. "He has the reputation of being one of the best IGs that we have in this town. And Joe [Biden] and I can't think of a more tenacious and efficient guardian of the hard-earned tax dollars the American people have entrusted us to wisely invest."

Since the board is a full-time position, Obama must name a new inspector general for Interior. Devaney is officially on a leave of absence until the board folds on Sept. 30, 2011. In the interim, Mary Kendall, Devaney's deputy, is acting IG of the department.

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