WASHINGTON — Empower Oversight has won a portion of its appeal of six Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking documents that would explain the extreme delays of an investigation into whistleblower retaliation and other misconduct at the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG). New documents reveal that an independent investigative report justifying the removal of FHFA-OIG leadership was withheld from the White House during the final 15 months of the Trump administration.
More than five years ago, whistleblowers at the FHFA-OIG began reporting misconduct, which the Integrity Committee—a self-policing arm for the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE)—eventually began reviewing in 2017.
On April 14, 2021 the Integrity Committee finally sent a 29-page report to President Biden with findings that it said would justify removing the then Inspector General, Laura Wertheimer. President Biden did not remove the inspector general, but she resigned under mounting pressure soon after the Integrity Committee report became public.
Two other officials the report found to have engaged in misconduct remain in place: Chief Counsel Leonard DePasquale, and former Acting Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Richard Parker.
To better understand the extreme delays in providing a final report to the White House for action, Empower Oversight sought documents about the Integrity Committee investigation through multiple FOIA requests.
CIGIE denied six of the FOIA requests on this topic, and Empower Oversight appealed those denials on October 6, 2021.
According to CIGIE procedures, when the Integrity Committee fails to complete an investigation within 150 days, it must report the reasons to Congress. On October 17, 2021, CIGIE provided Empower Oversight, pursuant to FOIA, with copies of its reports to Congress about delayed investigations.
Based on information provided confidentially to Empower Oversight and on an analysis of the Integrity Committee (IC) report to Congress that were recently produced by CIGIE, the investigation identified in the reports as #912 is the inquiry into the FHFA-OIG.
A summary and analysis of those reports to Congress can be found here.
On November 19, 2021, CIGIE granted Empower Oversight’s appeal in part, denied it in part, and remanded the six FOIA requests back to CIGIE’s FOIA staff for further consideration.CIGIE staff initially refused to confirm or deny the existence of the widely reported investigation, despite (a) the former FHFA Inspector General’s own attorney confirming it in the press, (b) CIGIE providing its findings to Congress, and (c) Congress posting the 29-page Integrity Committee report online.
In partially granting Empower Oversight’s appeal, CIGIE now concedes that it was inappropriate to refuse to confirm or deny the existence of the investigation of former Inspector General Wertheimer due to her attorney’s statements to the press. However, CIGIE continues to neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of its full 29-page report, which also details misconduct by other senior FHFA-OIG officials, although Congress posted it online in late April 2021.
In its appeal, Empower Oversight also argued that CIGIE FOIA staff failed to identify, evaluate, and balance the applicable privacy and public interests on a document-by-document basis, as required to invoke certain FOIA exemptions. CIGIE remanded Empower Oversight’s six FOIA requests to CIGIE’s FOIA Office for further consideration “in light of the partial reversal” of its prior denials and instructed the office that its reconsideration should factor in Empower Oversight’s arguments concerning the identification, evaluation, and balancing of the applicable privacy and public interests as required by FOIA Exemptions b(6) and b(7)(C).
Empower Oversight President Jason Foster offered the following comment:
“These new documents raise important questions about why it looks like the folks who were supposed to be watching the watchdogs failed to report their findings of whistleblower retaliation at the FHFA OIG to the Trump White House. Based on the record so far, there is no legitimate explanation for CIGIE’s Integrity Committee sitting on its findings until three months into the Biden administration. The public has a right to know whether politics improperly infected the Integrity Committee process and Empower Oversight will keep fighting for access to documents to shed more sunlight on how that process was allowed to fail whistleblowers for so long.”
Full Reports available here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/21094774-2021-10-27-cigie-to-empowr-6330-2021-63-final-response-w-encl
If you have first-hand information you’d like to disclose to assist Empower Oversight with these inquiries, please contact us confidentially here.