Former USAID Official, Accused of Contract Rigging, Named COO at World Bank Fund on Education

The Global Partnership for Education is seeking billions of dollars in additional funding for primary education.
The Global Partnership for Education is seeking billions  of dollars in additional funding for primary education.
The Global Partnership for Education is seeking billions of dollars in additional funding for primary education.

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.”

LIsa Gomer
LIsa Gomer
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.”

Diana Jean Schemo

Diana Jean Schemo

Diana Jean Schemo is co-founding executive editor of 100Reporters and an award-winning former foreign, national and cultural correspondent for The New York Times and the Baltimore Sun.
Diana Jean Schemo

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  1. The lack of integrity surrounding this situation is notorious having worked in a situation which was responsible for montoring the behaviour. Beyond contract finagaling there was extreme harassment and abuse associated with former positions. Abuse was so serious that a staff member had a miscarriage, one was sent to an psychiatric facility, other’s contracts were illegally terminated, performance documents forged and personnel files adulterated. This was cronyism at its best (worst), even a husband was being supervised by the spouse in an international position.

  2. Unfortunately USAID has a history of getting into bed with its contractors. And it is the main organization chosen by the Global Partnership for Education to implement its “quality agenda”. Inevitably relationships sometimes get incestuous.
    It’s not strange, therefore, that Ms. Albright gave shelter to a discredited USAID official. It illustrates how democratic party insiders are shaping fundraising and international development. Ms. Albright has to prove her fundraising ability and willingness to do political favors before she is tapped for top-level US political jobs.
    This means that the World Bank, which houses the Global Partnership for Education gets embroiled in US internal politics. Rhetoric about ending crony favoritism is clearly something that the institution only talks about while it pursues something else.

    • Well said. The appointment of this person, who is still under a cloud, shows real arrogance by Albright and/or also incredibly poor judgment on ethical matters where perception and credibility are crucial. And clearly the World Bank management, which touts its high standards for “due diligence” on appointments to such senior positions, just took a pass on this and allowed Albright and her managers to ignore an appointment which would reflect badly on GPE. What a mess that trust fund is, and how derelict in their duty are the World Bank managers, especially in the largely discredited HR division, who let this appointment go through.

  3. Well, some GPE or World Bank sycophants are still trying to cover up an ethically clouded and unannounced appointment, as we see; no surprise. But this will be noticed by the Congressional overseers who already questioned Ms. Gomer’s actions and which have been reported before, several times, in The Washington Post. She resigned very quietly early this year and the GPE, headed by Ms. Albright, did not, as they almost always do, trumpet another senior highly paid (at least $250,000 gross and more, plus benefits) appointment this time. Wonder why? Instead, they chose, interestingly, to fly this news well under the radar. Kudos for Diana Jean Schemo for lifting the veil on what is a public appointment paid by donor countries’ taxpayers’ money. Transparency at GPE/World Bank? Not this time. Better the previous posters say to cry “Libelious” (sp.)? “Slander”? So sue — but there ain’t any grounds my dears. Why hide the appointment of the new COO of a multi billion dollar enterprise? Answer that awkward question. You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Well, GPE can TRY to but it doesn’t always work……For shame.

  4. You call this reporting? Not only did you spell a former Secretary of State’s name wrong, but this is a libelious article against an individual who was proven innocent. This is muckraking of the worst form.

    • And what nonsense are you peddling in saying Albright’s name is not spelled correctly. Of course it is! So much for YOUR accuracy. And the jury is still out on the AID case, as the story makes clear. Really.

  5. I found the article misleading and sensational close to slander. It clearly says the individual was not at fault yet the journalist found among all world issues important enough to report.

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