Report: HHS Chief Not Entitled to Gun
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Janet Rehnquist, the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, received a government handgun and law enforcement credentials even though she was not legally entitled to them, an internal investigation concluded.
The daughter of Chief Justice William Rehnquist was guilty of ``administrative failures,″ the investigation found. The Justice Department reviewed the findings and said it would not prosecute.
No administrative punishment is required against Rehnquist because she recently announced her resignation, said Mark Everson, deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The investigation was conducted by the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, an organization of inspectors general who serve as internal watchdogs in their agencies. Everson chairs the council.
The report, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, has not been released.
``The IG did not meet the training and job classification requirements″ that allow some HHS investigators to carry weapons, the report said.
HHS spokesman Tony Jewell had no comment on the allegations against Rehnquist. He did say her predecessor had similar credentials authorizing a firearm. Another top HHS official disputed that.
Jewell praised Rehnquist’s work as inspector general overall.
``She recovered record dollars in fighting fraud,″ he said. ``That’s what she was hired to do and she did it extremely, extremely well.″
Rehnquist has had a controversial tenure since taking office in August 2001. She intervened to delay an audit of Florida’s pension money at the request of the office of Gov. Jeb Bush, the president’s brother. Most of her professional staff members either quit or were forced out after she took office.
Congressional investigators also are looking into her conduct.
She has announced she’s quitting June 1 to spend more time with her teenage daughters and pursue other professional opportunities.
Rehnquist told investigators she had the unloaded gun in her office less than a day. It was taken away from her by officials responsible for HHS firearms and replaced by a laser gun, which required no permit, the report said.
She also wrongly obtained the law enforcement credential that allowed her to enter her government building without going through security, according to the report.
The report found as well that Vicki Shepard, deputy inspector general for investigations who obtained the gun and credentials for Rehnquist, also had an unauthorized weapon. Everson, the White House official, suggested that HHS officials consider whether action should be taken against Shepard.
Shepard told investigators she was unaware that she was not authorized to carry a weapon.
Federal law makes it illegal to knowingly possess a firearm in a federal facility, although there’s an exception for law enforcement officers.
According to the report, HHS special agent Edward Landicho, a firearms instructor, was told by Shepard that Rehnquist ``was interested in learning how to shoot a firearm. On June 3, 2002 ... Shepard directed him to provide a ... firearm for IG Rehnquist to use for practice to improve her shooting.″
The agent said the next day, he informed his supervisor that in her absence he had given Rehnquist the gun. The supervisor immediately retrieved the weapon and substituted the laser gun that is used as a pointer for conference presentations.
Shepard told investigators the IG was not authorized to carry a firearm but said she defined ``carrying″ as physically carrying a loaded gun. Since Rehnquist’s gun was never loaded, the IG never ``carried″ the weapon from her office, Shepard said.
Rehnquist told the investigators she thought she could use the firearm to practice discharging the clip and for sight alignment. She did not recall requesting the firearm and believed she had it less than 24 hours.
``IG Rehnquist believed that as inspector general of a law enforcement agency she was responsible for overseeing investigations and, therefore, authorized to possess a firearm,″ the report said.
The report added that Shepard insisted that credentials be given to Rehnquist even after being told she was not entitled to them. Shepard said her boss needed them to access special areas ``in the event of a terrorist incident,″ the investigation said.
Associated Press writer Laura Meckler contributed to this report.