Reagan Fired Slew Of IGs Upon Taking Office — And Senate GOP Last Year Blocked Measure To Make Firing IGs Harder

On Friday we reported that, according to two board members, the impetus for firing the AmeriCorps inspector general, Gerald Walpin, came from the board, not the White House.

Still, just to put a nail in the coffin of any notion that the dismissal represents some sort of unprecedented partisan power play, it’s worth considering some historical context. Take a look at this UPI report (via Nexis) from January 21, 1981 — the second day of the Reagan administration:

Wasting no time in cleaning his administration of Democratic appointees, President Reagan Wednesday fired most of the nation’s inspectors general and asked 200 other officials to resign.

”We want people who are meaner than a junkyard dog at ferreting out fraud, waste and mismanagement,” said press secretary James Brady in explaining the dismissal of the inspectors general, who are in charge of internal agency investigations.

Six of the total of fifteen IGs were rehired a short time later. Still, the Reagan example suggests there’s ample precedent for a president removing an IG in whom he’s lost confidence.

There’s another reason why Republican suggestions of executive-branch high-handedness — which have been pushed most prominently by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa — ring hollow.

Last year, Congress passed the Inspector Generals Reform Act. During negotiations over the measure, House Democrats wanted a provision that would have allowed the president to remove an IG only for one of nine explicitly defined causes. But according to one expert, the Bush White House was adamantly opposed to that requirement, arguing that it would tie the president’s hands. And Senate Republicans, lining up against the interests of their own branch of government, willingly carried the White House’s water on the issue. Ultimately, thanks to the opposition of the Senate GOP, the provision was removed.

In other words, it was Grassley’s Senate GOP colleagues who made it easier for the White House to fire Walpin without citing a specific pre-approved cause. As Danielle Brian of the good-government group POGO blogged last week: “[I]f the Congress is annoyed because they think the President’s reason for dismissal … is not good enough, they only have themselves to blame.”

None of this means that Walpin himself, aided by the conservative echo chamber, won’t keep up his campaign to turn this into the US Attorneys part deux. But it’s looking like an increasingly quixotic effort.