House investigators fired

John Dimsdale Oct 20, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: One of the phone calls government contractors definitely don’t want to get comes from congressional investigators. As of this week there’s less of a chance that’ll happen. The House Appropriations Committee has shut down its team of investigators. They specialized in fraudulent government spending. Things like what happened with government recovery dollars after Hurricane Katrina. Congressional Quarterly reports they were told to turn in their government badges by early next week. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale is on the case.

JOHN DIMSDALE: The so-called Surveys and Investigations Team has been looking into reports of wasteful and abusive government spending since the early 1940s. It’s findings, however, are never made public. Reports are exclusively for members of the Appropriations Committee.

The government watchdog Project on Government Oversight has worked with the team of congressional investigators. POGO’s Danielle Brian had been looking forward to the team’s findings on Katrina spending.

DANIELLE BRIAN: It was the House Appropriations Committee that said there should not be the equivalent of a 9/11 Commission looking into FEMA’s response to Katrina because of this group of investigators. And they were going to break with tradition and make the results of that investigation public. Essentially, everyone’s waiting for the answers. Not only are we not getting the answers, the messengers are being disbanded too.

But a committee spokesman says there’s nothing sinister about the dismantling of the 60-member team. He says the investigators, who cost over a million dollars a year, weren’t doing very good work. And their contracts were up October 1st. He says the committee will decide whether to restart the team, possibly with new investigators, early next year.

Others familiar with the fired investigators confirm the quality of their work has been shoddy — “Nothing more than you’d get from an intern,” according to one who would speak only on background.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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