House Employees Scrutinized

Posted March 16, 2010 at 6:27pm

The House Inspector General completed 22 investigations, audits and advisories last year, with one focusing on the “improper conduct” of two employees who work for Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard.

IG officials are usually secretive about their often-sensitive work, reporting directly to House leaders on any findings. But last week, acting Inspector General Theresa Grafenstine outlined her office’s recent activities in written testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

The office began investigating “two House employees” after it received an anonymous letter in August 2008 containing allegations against them, according to Grafenstine’s testimony. In March 2009, the office handed the results of the investigation to the House Administration Committee.

Grant Scherling and Dennis Leber were listed on an ethics document leaked in October that details the ongoing investigations of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and the Office of Congressional Ethics. The document — dated July — indicates that the committee was investigating “allegations of improper conduct” against Scherling and Leber.

But in an e-mailed statement, Beard said the employees cited in the IG’s testimony have since been cleared of any wrongdoing.

“After a thorough review, the Office of the Inspector General told me they found the allegations to be totally without merit and therefore these individuals remain employees within my organization,” he said.

Until last June, Scherling was director of the CAO’s Office of Sustainability, according to information on LegiStorm.com. But since then, he has been a “senior adviser” for the House finance division. Leber is a senior network systems engineer.

Grafenstine did not specify the two employees’ alleged actions, but she wrote that the IG’s office provided fraud training to the CAO financial counselors.

“The training focused on providing the financial counselors with the key indicators of fraud and with the methods of separating duties to have adequate internal controls and, thus, to help reduce the risks of future fraud occurrences,” she wrote.

Grafenstine’s office also plans to audit the CAO’s contracting process. The CAO awarded 28 new contracts in fiscal year 2009, totaling $42 million, according to Grafenstine.

“With the significant amount of contracts and dollars expended, along with limited monitoring and surveillance resources, the CAO’s process of monitoring contractor performance may create risks to the House,” she wrote. “To help mitigate these risks, the OIG will perform several performance audit reviews related to contracting to help the House reduce and manage the risks involved.”

Beard said Grafenstine has assured him that the audit is “run of the mill,” and in her testimony, she attributes the review to the fact that the Government Accountability Office has identified the federal agencies’ acquisition and contracting processes as a high-risk area.

Over the next year, Grafenstine also plans to review the House’s security clearance process, the security controls over the CAO’s virtual servers and the CAO’s Disaster Recovery Plan. So far this year, the IG’s office has 20 ongoing audits, advisories and investigations.

Grafenstine’s testimony also touched on other IG investigations completed last year, including one that found that the Architect of the Capitol’s network is adequately protected and another that discovered a few infrastructure issues with the House’s backup data facility. A review of the House’s processing procedures for employees also found that offices “were not ensuring that departing employees paid off monetary debts to the House or returned House property.”

Kyle Anderson, spokesman for House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.), declined to comment on any of the investigations or on how much money and equipment has gone missing with outgoing employees.

“We do not comment on IG proceedings,” he said in an e-mail, adding that public reports are posted on the IG’s Web site. The last public report — an audit of the House finances for fiscal 2007 — was posted in December 2008.