Agriculture IG Named Acting Watchdog of Federal Housing Finance Agency
The office has been under scrutiny by lawmakers and an IG committee.
The inspector general for the Agriculture Department is taking over as acting IG for the Federal Housing Finance Agency once the current one resigns.
Embattled FHFA IG Laura Wertheimer told colleagues on June 29 that she was resigning in July. She was under fire from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who sent letters to President Biden on April 14 and 28, respectively, about their separate investigations into top leadership at the FHFA IG office regarding whistleblower complaints starting in 2017. Wertheimer did not cite any of the investigative reports in her resignation email. Emmet Flood, an attorney at Williams & Connolly LLP who is representing Wertheimer, previously told Government Executive in a statement that Wertheimer “has been a superlative IG and members of her oversight committee have commended her for her frankness, courage and service,” nothing that she and her staff won the 2019 CIGIE Government Ethics Award for Excellence.
“There are no beginnings without endings. With my resignation today, my time as inspector general is at an end,” said Wertheimer in an email to colleagues on Friday, obtained by Government Executive, “President Biden has asked Inspector General Phyllis Fong, the current IG at the USDA, to serve as acting IG for FHFA-OIG and she has graciously agreed. As this transition begins, I urge you to give Inspector General Fong your trust and confidence and to embrace the change that comes with this new beginning.”
In the email she also recapped the accomplishments at the office under her tenure.
“Combined with your hard work and commitment to getting it ‘right,’ we have produced a significant body of work in furtherance of our mission to make FHFA’s operations more effective, efficient and economical and to prevent and detect waste, fraud and abuse,” she wrote. “During our time together, this OIG has won 12 CIGIE awards, including three won last week.”
In addition to the email, another source familiar with the matter confirmed that Fong was becoming the acting IG. Fong has been in the position of USDA IG since December 2002. Before that she was IG for the Small Business Administration.
Earlier this month, three oversight groups sent a letter to President Biden calling on him to take action to restore confidence and morale at the IG office following Wertheimer’s resignation. Lawmakers from both parties also raised concerns about the future of the IG office.
Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., sent a letter to Biden on July 12 urging him to “appoint a qualified individual as the acting inspector general to the Federal Housing Finance Agency and swiftly nominate a qualified individual with extensive leadership experience to permanently fill the role.” Although the current IG is leaving “whistleblowers have contacted our offices and are concerned that individuals who were complicit in her malfeasance will not only remain at FHFA OIG, but also enter leadership roles.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, said in a statement on June 29 that “Wertheimer is the poster child for why the House will pass my Integrity Committee Reform Act today.” The House did pass it later that day as part of a broader IG reform act.
“We must hold inspectors general to the highest standards, and ensure transparency and ethics are at the forefront of every audit and investigation,” Connolly said.
Officials and media contacts from the Agriculture and Federal Housing Finance Agency IG offices did not respond for comment by the time of this article’s publication.
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