Grassley Joins Fight Over Library IG

Posted June 8, 2009 at 6:34pm

Last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley sent a letter to Librarian of Congress James Billington, accusing his agency of interfering with the work of its inspector general’s office.

The Iowa Republican listed several instances where he thought Library officials were out of line, including e-mails and memos in which they questioned the language and harshness of certain IG reports.

But Grassley doesn’t directly mention the one issue at the forefront of the controversy: a provision in the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill that stripped the Library’s IG office of its ability to purchase, maintain and carry firearms.

Ever since the spending bill passed, Library Inspector General Karl Schornagel has been trying to get the provision repealed. But LOC officials have adopted the opposite view, claiming the ability to carry guns doesn’t affect the office’s work.

In a recent interview, Schornagel argued that firearms are integral to his office’s criminal investigations. Without them, he said, investigators can’t execute searches, conduct surveillance or even collect much of the evidence needed to issue a warrant.

Now that they can’t carry guns, IG officials must hand off criminal investigations to other agencies, depending on the crime. Many of the alleged crimes are outside the jurisdiction of the Capitol Police, and in some cases hundreds of hours of work may remain before an arrest or search can take place.

That leads already-stretched law enforcement agencies to put an LOC investigation at the bottom of their priority lists or simply decline to take the cases, Schornagel said.

He cited one investigation concerning an identity theft ring that included a Library employee. While the staffer was arrested before the gun provision went into effect, the warrant for one of his outside accomplices has been indefinitely delayed.

“We just want to be made whole. We want to get back to where we were,— Schornagel said Monday. “The fact of the matter is no other organization is positioned better than my office to conduct [these] investigations.—

Before the change, Schornagel’s office was not the only IG office to hold firearms; IGs at dozens of other government agencies similarly have employees deputized by the U.S. Marshals Service.

The issue has spilled outside the confines of the Library and into the law enforcement community. In April, the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents more than 20,000 federal officers, wrote to Billington that he was “deeply concerned.—

“The question is not whether criminal activity is occurring at the Library of Congress. There is a clear record that these incidences do occur at the Library,— Jon Adler wrote. “The question is whether these cases will be pursued.—

The Library’s office has used firearms in investigations for 15 years. In the past few years alone, IG employees have unearthed dozens of instances of criminal activity at the Library, leading to charges being brought for embezzlement, identity theft, child pornography and stolen property.

Grassley’s letter to Billington hints at the tension between the IG’s office and Library management over at least one of those investigations.

In an e-mail attached to Grassley’s letter, Library Chief Operating Officer Jo Ann Jenkins reprimands the IG’s office after a Department of Justice press release publicized the sentencing of a former Library employee for possession of child pornography.

Apparently thinking an IG official had sent the release, Jenkins wrote that it “does nothing [by highlighting] the issue more in the press.—

“This title and subheadline [is] outrageous,— she wrote. “Why does the IG feel it necessary to get publicity on this.—

Within minutes, Jenkins realized her mistake and apologized, according to LOC spokesman Matt Raymond.

But Grassley questioned the Library’s attitude toward the IG’s work on such investigations. “It seems that this OIG investigation led to the successful prosecution of a child predator who utilized his LOC computer to upload images of child pornography,— he wrote. “Yet, Agency management felt it necessary to admonish the OIG because it seemed to prefer that this criminal matter not see the light of day.—

Raymond said Billington will be “responding fully— to Grassley in the next few weeks. Officials will look into the “serious issues— raised by the letter, he said, but he also added that it included “serious factual errors.—

He also pointed out that Billington requested the first-ever audit of the Library early in his tenure and created the agency’s IG position.

So far, most Members have avoided getting involved in the issue. Only Grassley has publicly addressed the tension between the IG’s office and Library management, and the committees tasked with overseeing the agency haven’t had much of a reaction.

In an e-mail, the spokesman for House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) said the independence of the IG is “an invaluable and fundamental element of the position.—

But he remained vague on what steps — if any — the committee would take.

“The chairman will certainly ask the Library to be accountable on this issue,— spokesman Kyle Anderson said. “We do not have any hearings on the matter scheduled, but we would do so if our inquiries warrant.—

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch was similarly noncommittal.

Tom Fazzini, spokesman for Chairman Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), said the subcommittee is “aware of these issues,— particularly Schornagel’s concern about the gun provision.

Members, he said, “will consider that while drafting the [fiscal 2010] bill.—

“The committee has always had an excellent relationship with Dr. Billington and his staff, and looks forward to hearing his perspective on these matters,— Fazzini said in an e-mail.

The disagreement does have an end in sight. Members seem likely to strip the gun provision from the fiscal 2010 appropriations bill, meaning the Library IG office will regain the ability to carry firearms whenever it passes. But that is months away.

As for the larger issue of management interfering in the IG’s investigations, a spokesman for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch said no one had brought the issue to the panel’s attention.

“The Legislative Branch Subcommittee has not been approached regarding any concerns about the relationship between the Library management and the Library IG’s office,— said Jonathan Beeton, spokesman for Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).