GAO Findings Show HUD Officials’ Attempts to Silence Employees During Congressional Inquiry
WASHINGTON, D.C. – (RealEstateRama) — The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that two Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) employees illegally interfered with a Congressional investigation and has recommended sanctions.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) praised the report from the GAO and called on HUD to follow GAO’s recommendations.
The case arose out of a 2012 Congressional investigation into a secret deal orchestrated by then-Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Tom Perez. Fearing a pending Supreme Court case would outlaw controversial legal tactics DOJ favored, he persuaded the litigant to drop the appeal in exchange for DOJ halting an unrelated fraud investigation into the litigant. HUD had a key role in the fraud investigation and accordingly Congressional staff sought interviews with certain HUD employees.
GAO’s report found that HUD’s General Deputy Assistant Secretary and Associate General Counsel actively sought to block Congressional access to a key employee. The GAO concluded that such interference violated federal law prohibiting salary payments to officials who seek to bar employees from communicating with Congress. The evidence showed the instruction to the employee was not part of good faith negotiations, but rather an attempt to block Congressional access to the employee.
Accordingly, GAO concluded that “HUD’s appropriation was not available to pay the salaries” of the officials involved, and recommended “HUD seek to recover these [salary] payments” for the period comprising the violation.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) issued the following statements following the release of the report:
Chairman Goodlatte: “Today’s report underscores that Congress will not permit the Executive Branch to stonewall. Federal law provides penalties for Executive Branch officials who obstruct Congressional oversight and these will be enforced. One of Congress’ central duties is to check Executive Branch overreach, and to exercise its oversight powers when it suspects wrongdoing. Today’s report by GAO shows that HUD clearly stonewalled Congress’ investigation of its involvement in Mr. Perez’s secret deal. HUD must now take appropriate action including following GAO’s recommendation to claw back salary payments from the two officials implicated.”
Chairman Chaffetz: “I am pleased GAO reconsidered their initial opinion. This decision now reflects a clear understanding that no one should be prevented or prohibited from communicating with Congress. GAO’s opinion affirms there are consequences for interfering with congressional oversight. We will continue our efforts to ensure proper penalties are enforced.”
Chairman Grassley: “The Obama Administration turned a blind eye to help recover tens of millions of tax dollars potentially lost to fraud and then obstructed a federal employee from talking to Congress about it–contrary to restrictions on the use of federal money for that purpose. This sort of disregard for the law led the American people to elect a new Congress in 2014 so it could be a check on the Administration. The GAO opinion is a significant step forward in holding the Obama Administration accountable for trying to thwart oversight and to deter agencies from trying to deny a witness the opportunity to communicate directly with Congress in the future.”
Background: A longstanding provision in federal appropriations bills prohibits paying the salary of agency officials who attempt to prevent any employee from speaking to Congress. At the request of Chairman Goodlatte, Chairman Chaffetz and Chairman Grassley, the GAO investigated whether HUD officials engaged in precisely such interference. Despite strong evidence, GAO initially found no wrongdoing. Justifications included that HUD officials’ instructions not to speak to Congress did not contain a threat of consequences for disobedience.
Accordingly, the Committees repeated their inquiry and provided additional evidence. As a result, GAO continued to investigate the matter and reversed their findings in the report issued today.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the secret deal conducted by then Assistant Attorney General Perez in April of 2013.
Click here to learn more about the report.