Obama Fires Government Watchdog Critical of CUNY's Teaching Fellows Program

President Obama may have a big political controversy in the firing of an inspector general overseeing the federal government's sprawling community service program -- and there's a New York angle.

Federal watchdog Gerald Walpin [pictured] was fired last week, the White House said, for supposedly being "confused" and "disoriented." Walpin's job was to keep an eye on the expenditures and operations of the huge Americorps program, along with all of the organizations that it funds.

Walpin had just issued damning audits of two high-profile programs, including the widely lauded Teaching Fellows program, run by the City University Research Foundation. (Here's a story that lays it out pretty clearly.)

That program places mid-career professionals as teachers in the New York City public schools, allowing them to teach while earning a modest salary and working toward their degree in education. The program has received tons of favorable coverage in the New York Times and elsewhere, but has been criticized by teachers unions.

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Walpin's audit [pdf] found that the program could not prove it was doing criminal background checks, had taken more money than it was due, didn't follow certain Americorps rules, failed to regularly file required forms, and did some sloppy record-keeping.

In all, Walpin questioned awards to the program of $16.1 million and $773,000, mostly on administrative grounds. He also says the government should stop the program and recover $75 million spent over the past six years.

CUNY pledged to make changes, according to the audit, but didn't go all the way. It also refused to return any money, and defended its policy of accepting background checks supplied by the city Department of Education. The Corporation for National and Community Service -- the official name of the agency Walpin oversees -- refused to ask for any of the money back from CUNY.

In a letter [pdf] to CUNY president Matthew Goldstein, Walpin in essence says that the money CUNY gets from Americorps is redundant. Basically, CUNY doesn't need it:

"The program doesn't work because it adds no service to the community which is not already provided by the Fellows program," Walpin writes. "Therefore, taxpayers are not getting their money's worth. The [government] could accomplish its goals more effectively if the funds for these grants were used... in communities where the need exists."

Walpin cites a newspaper report which he says proves that educational awards are being used to deprive college graduates of teaching jobs because the money is going instead to taxpayer-financed teaching fellows.

Goldstein, for his part, accused Walpin of acting outside the scope of his authority.

What started as a bureaucratic flap got spicey last week when Walpin, a holdover from the Bush administration, was placed on 30 days suspension without pay by the White House.

In a letter to Congress, White House lawyer Norman Eisen claimed that Walpin was "confused," "disoriented" in a May board meeting, and "unduly disruptive".

But Walpin told Fox News today that the explanation for his firing was "baseless," and "absolutely wild."

He claimed that the Obama administration was pissed off over the fracas with CUNY and Goldstein, and another spat over a negative audit of the Hope Academy, a school founded by former NBA star Kevin Johnson, now the mayor of Sacramento, California.

"The board at that meeting was clearly angry at my temerity," he told Fox News.


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