Loose Lips

The Watchdog Turf War Is Back On

Will D.C.'s ethics watchdogs ever get along? Earlier this month, LL declared an end to the feud between the Office of the Inspector General and the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. Judging by a new letter from Inspector General Charles Willoughby, though, the short-lived truce is already off.

Oversight fans will remember that OIG and BEGA started a turf war over the summer about whether OIG should give BEGA access to its investigative files. The spat got bad enough in August that BEGA threatened to subpoena the OIG, but the issue was resolved earlier this month—or so we thought. The solution hinged on two things: an informal agreement between the two offices, and impending legislation from D.C. Council government operations chairman Kenyan McDuffie that would require city agencies to hand over records to BEGA without a subpoena.

In his Sept. 18 letter to Mayor Vince Gray and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, though, Willoughby warns that McDuffie's new bill will be a disaster. By sharing OIG records with BEGA, the bill would do everything from hamper OIG's own investigations to persuading the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office not share their own information with OIG.

"Our records contain the identity of sources and other witnesses and any disclosure could well lead to witness tampering and intimidation," Willoughby writes.

Willoughby didn't respond to LL's request for comment. It's hard not to think his letter is a little overheated, though, given that this whole debate started over the pursuit of handicap placard scofflaws. Previous inspector general investigations into weightier topics—say, D.C. public schools cheating—have fizzled out when the people being investigated promised the OIG that they didn't do anything wrong. Serpico this is not.

McDuffie declined to comment on the letter to LL this morning, saying he hadn't reviewed it yet. Darrin Sobin, BEGA's director of government ethics, tells LL that his agency is sticking behind the bill. Fittingly, Sobin complained that Willoughby hadn't shared the letter with him.

...