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Copyright 2001 The Washington Post
The Washington Post

August 06, 2001, Monday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 786 words

HEADLINE: USDA's Inspector General, Staying or Going?

BYLINE: Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post Staff Writer


Roger Viadero, inspector general at the Agriculture Department, likes to call himself the highest ranking Latino law enforcement official in the country. "Viadero," he says, pounding the third syllable like a Bronx tough. "The name's Cuban."

But word is the former New York City cop and FBI investigator has been given the pink slip -- the White House office of personnel called him a few weeks ago to tell him he should start packing, government sources say. Apparently, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman wants him gone, they say. (One source says Veneman felt he embarrassed her in some way at a staff meeting. "As far as I know, nothing was ever said to embarrass her," said Viadero's spokeswoman, Sharon Friend.) Viadero, who gave the former administration headaches with his harsh reports on civil rights and crop insurance program abuses, will not confirm or deny that he has been asked to depart. "Who are your sources?" he parried.

He said there is no reason he should be ousted.

"I am a great guy," he said. "We've done so many good things, all my 700-plus people and myself. I'm very proud of all my employees. I was just quoted in the National Journal for being one of the top decision-makers in Washington."

The White House would say only: "If there are any changes in personnel, we'll be happy to let you know at the appropriate time."

Ditto for the Agriculture Department, whose spokesman said he was not aware of any personnel action.

If Viadero is booted, observers say, there will be hell to pay. "Congress wants the IGs to be junkyard dogs, not pound puppies," said IG expert Paul Light of the Brookings Institution.

Rumors of Viadero's impending removal have touched off fears of a purge reminiscent of President Ronald Reagan's wholesale firing of government IGs in 1981, Light said. Others say it is just a spat between Veneman and an IG.

Appointed IG by President Bill Clinton in 1994, Viadero had been with the FBI for 15 years in a variety of jobs. It could be that Viadero, who is eligible for retirement, will wind up in another IG job to finish out the year, sources say. He might be a contender for the job at the FBI, where Congress is creating a monitor's position to watchdog the troubled agency.

WHAT OMB THINKS: George W. ran as a Washington outsider, ridiculing Al Gore's reinvention of government, and he vowed to slash the ranks of middle managers and open the bureaucracy to competition with the private sector.

Now, on the inside, the Bush team is finding that reform is easier said than done. In recent remarks to a conference of government contractors, Bush's budget and management consigliere, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., shared with a friendly audience the administration's opinion of the bureaucracy.

"Department of Interior has been described as the world's largest lawn-care service," he quipped at the meeting sponsored by the Contract Services Association.

"We still find thousands of federal employees doing things that cannot pass the Yellow Pages test, performing services that are very common -- maintenance, training, property management, statistical analysis -- these are the kinds of things that at least catch my eye as natural targets" for competition with contractors, he said.

Another crack drew laughs: "I think for some of our folks in federal government, their idea of a stretch goal is going from 10 to eight carbon copies on a purchase order."

Daniels, head of the Office of Management and Budget, reserved his venom for a bill called the TRAC Act, which would impose a moratorium on new contracting until, according to its sponsor, Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), there is a fair process by which government employees can compete with the private sector for jobs. Daniels, who noted that the administration intends to step up the "competing out" of government jobs, called the TRAC Act his nominee for the most "poorly conceived bill." Daniels said, "It really is retrograde thinking, anti-taxpayer in the extreme," and he gave it "no chance" of passing in its present form.

Wynn fired back later: "This is just confirmation of the Bush administration's cozy relationship with the private sector. What we're saying is let the people in these government jobs compete fairly with the private sector."

Daniels, speaking last month at a lunch sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government, also lamented the state of the government's information technology workers. They are doing a good job but "are probably not the best the nation has to offer," he said. "I'm not sure we have cutting-edge leadership."

Staff writer Stephen Barr contributed to this report.

LOAD-DATE: August 06, 2001

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