AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Accusations of cronyism and wasteful spending have been made against a little-known federal agency. The Government Publishing Office is in charge of producing official documents from passports and social security cards to tax forms and the 2020 census. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has obtained an internal investigative report that alleges misconduct by two of the agency's top officials. He joins us now to talk more about it. And, Hansi, first, who conducted this internal investigation at the GPO?
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: This is part of an ongoing investigation by the GPO's internal watchdog group. It's called the Office of the Inspector General. We obtained an interim report that was sent to Congress back in June. And the authenticity of the report was confirmed to us by the GPO's current Inspector General Melinda Miguel. And this report says the investigators found what they called the improper hiring of two employees. Both joined the agency in 2014 during the Obama administration. And the report estimated that the cost to taxpayers was more than $400,000.
CORNISH: Who are these workers? And what does the report say was wrong with their hiring?
LO WANG: Well, one of them is the son of the current acting head of the agency Herbert Jackson Jr. And in general, you're not allowed to work at a federal agency where a relative is a supervisor whether directly or indirectly. And this investigation found that Jackson's son was appointed to an internship position at the GPO. And Jackson was indirectly supervising the division where his son was working. And this went on for four years.
This report also focuses on another former employee. She was a family friend of a former congressional staffer involved with GPO funding. And the investigators say this GPO worker did not qualify as an expert or a consultant. And that would have exempted her from the general hiring rules. And the report says a former GPO official Andrew Sherman made sure she was paid through multiple contracts over four years.
CORNISH: Now, what happens next? We're talking about senior officials - right? - at the government publishing office.
LO WANG: Well, I reached out to both of those officials and to the GPO. All declined to comment. The GPO's spokesman says the investigation is still ongoing. And Andrew Sherman, one of those top officials, is no longer with the GPO. But according to a letter he has sent to Congress, he has questioned the credibility of this investigation. And the other thing to keep in mind here is that oversight ultimately falls to lawmakers on a joint congressional committee. And the spokesperson for the House Democrats on the committee says they're playing a, quote, "vigorous oversight regime in the new Congress."
CORNISH: This might be the first time that many people have even heard of the Government Publishing Office. What impact could mismanagement at this small agency have on the rest of the government?
LO WANG: Right. This is a little-known agency. But it does play a critical role especially when it comes to the once-a-decade census. You know, an earlier inspector general investigation found that GPO officials violated contracting rules for the printing of the 2020 census. They still have not announced the new contractor. And the Census Bureau says printing those forms has to start by June to avoid disrupting preparations. So mismanagement at the GPO could have big implications because a 2020 census affects how seats in the House of Representatives are distributed among the states and how federal funding is distributed over the next decade.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang. He's been reporting on an investigation into alleged misconduct at the Government Publishing Office. Hansi, thank you.
LO WANG: You're welcome.
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