Gomer’s Games

Obama law school classmate, USAID general counsel caught in ethical scandal

• January 25, 2013 4:42 pm


The federal official embroiled in a Justice Department investigation into contract rigging at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) received an ethics waiver from the Obama administration in 2009 and is the president’s former Harvard Law School classmate.

Lisa Gomer, the general counsel of USAID, is under investigation for allegedly rigging a contract to the agency’s retiring chief financial officer, David Ostermeyer, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Gomer previously worked for the United Nations and was a consultant to the United Nations Development Program. She required a waiver from the Obama administration’s ethics pledge because of her previous employment.

Gomer also graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991 in the same class as President Barack Obama.

The Washington Post reported in November that Gomer suddenly had been moved out of the USAID counsel office in late summer and was barred from talking to her former colleagues:

All the lawyers on her team were told they could no longer talk to her about her work. This was especially problematic because she had planned a big meeting in Washington of agency lawyers, including folks stationed abroad, for October, and because of the situation, it had to be suddenly canceled. […]

No one at USAID appears to know what’s going on. There were even suspicions that her reassignment was being kept under wraps prior to the election. (Of course everyone suspected everything was kept under wraps until after the election. Besides, weeks after the election, it’s still under wraps.)

USAID deputy administrator Donald Steinberg may have also interfered with the investigation into Gomer, according to documents released to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform from USAID’s inspector general.

"When people are slapping badges down, reading rights and monitoring who is calling who as it relates to career people, it is a mistake," Steinberg said to investigators, according to the documents.

Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) called Steinberg’s actions "disturbing and outrageous."

"Inspectors general can only be effective if they are independent," Issa said in a statement. "Efforts to intimidate or chastise an inspector general for investigating agency corruption and submitting findings to the Justice Department are simply incompatible with honest government."

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gomer’s attorney David Schertler said in a statement Thursday that his client "did not violate any law."

"We understand that the Office of Inspector General for USAID conducted an investigation, in which Ms. Gomer cooperated completely, and we have been informed that the Department of Justice reviewed the matter and declined to initiate a criminal investigation," Schertler said. "Ms. Gomer is an example of 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. Her decision to leave public service is a loss for USAID."

The USAID contract bidding for a "senior government-to-government assistance adviser" was canceled after the agency caught wind of the potential scandal.

Gomer was removed from the general counsel office in August and resigned from USAID on Jan. 13, an agency spokesperson told the Washington Post. Ostermeyer retired Jan. 3.