By Diana Jean Schemo
Lisa Gomer, who resigned as general counsel at the U.S. Agency for International Development earlier this year amid a Justice Department investigation of contract rigging, has quietly taken a new job: chief operating officer at the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Education.
Gomer, a former member of the federal government’s elite Senior Executive Service, stepped down from her post at USAID in February, after the agency’s Inspector General alleged that Gomer had helped design a contract to insure it would go to USAID’s chief financial officer, David Ostermeyer, who was retiring.
The Justice Department reached a $30,000 settlement with Ostermeyer 12 days ago, on terms that suggest its investigation is continuing. Gomer’s attorney said, however, that they were told she is in the clear.
According to Gomer’s LinkedIn profile, she began her new job at the Global Partnership two months ago. In a departure from usual practice, neither the bank nor the Global Partnership issued a press release announcing Gomer’s appointment.
Gomer did not respond directly to questions emailed to her.
Instead, a spokesman for the Global Partnership, who declined to be identified by name, responded on her behalf, and said that Gomer was selected for the high-level post “following an extensive global search under rigorous World Bank recruitment processes.”
The spokesman wrote that its due diligence on the appointment showed that “after the completion of the investigation the Justice Department did not take action or bring charges against Ms. Gomer.”
However, the Justice Department’s settlement with Ostermeyer suggests its inquiry is still under way.
In it, the former CFO pledged “to cooperate fully and truthfully with the United States’ investigation of individuals and entities not released in this agreement.” The settlement also leaves open the possibility of further criminal charges against Ostermeyer, who did not admit guilt as part of the agreement.
Reached at his home, Ostermeyer declined to comment. “I’m willing to listen to your questions, but not answer them,” he told a reporter.
David Schertler, Gomer’s attorney, said his client “did not violate any law” and had “cooperated completely” with the Inspector General’s investigation. After reviewing his findings, Justice Department officials declined to undertake a criminal investigation, Schertler wrote in an email. “We were also informed that the Department of Justice does not intend to pursue any civil remedies against Ms. Gomer.”
Her lawyer described Gomer as “a dedicated and committed public servant who served as an excellent General Counsel for USAID and did nothing other than to further the best interests of the agency and the United States.”
The Global Partnership is a trust fund of the World Bank, whose new chief, Jim Yong Kim, has made transparency and an end to corruption the watchwords of his presidency.
The $5 billion fund recently announced—at a free concert in New York’s Central Park that featured Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, the Kings of Leon and other marquee entertainers—plans to seek a new round of funding totaling billions of dollars for education in developing countries.
The partnership was created to improve education in the developing world, but has faced allegations of nepotism, wasteful spending and revolving door cronyism. Its new chief is Alice Albright, daughter of Madeline Albright.
Government watchdog groups raised questions about the choice of Gomer to lead the partnership.
“There is a whiff of impropriety about this appointment, given the unresolved bid-rigging issues that affected USAID on Ms. Gomer’s watch and the apparent stealth with which she assumed her new position at the Global Partnership on Education,” Bea Edwards, executive director of the Government Accountability Project, wrote in an email. “Given the extraordinary importance of the GPE’s mission educating poor children in poor countries, the Chief Operating Officer for this fund must be above reproach.”
The Inspector General’s investigation last year alleged that Gomer and Ostermeyer had “wired” contract specifications for a “senior government-to-government assistance advisor” position to insure Ostermeyer a government contract worth up to $155,500 a year. Once news of contract became public, USAID canceled the contract.
“I do think it raises questions about the integrity of our contracting system,” said Scott Amey, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight.
The Inspector General alerted the Justice Department to potential criminal wrongdoing, drawing a highly unusual rebuke from USAID brass. Congressional overseers, in a hearing, deemed it an effort intimidate the inspector general and interfere in his work. By statute, inspectors general are supposed to be independent of the agencies they monitor, and they are bound to report suspected criminal wrongdoing to the Department of Justice.
Documents that the House Committee on Government Oversight made public showed that Rajiv Shah, USAID’s director, had told his second-in-command, Donald Steinberg, to approach the inspector general about the investigation. Steinberg’s subsequent attack on the Inspector General suggested a culture that did not welcome accountability.
“When people are slapping badges down, reading rights and monitoring who is calling who as it relates to career people, it is a mistake,” one document quoted Steinberg as telling the investigators. “We are not that kind of agency. People are being told they need to hire lawyers, and that is inappropriate.”