Earl E. Devaney, scourge of government waste and corruption, dies at 74

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Earl E. Devaney, who began his career as a Secret Service agent guarding President Richard M. Nixon and became one of the US government’s most aggressive and feared internal watchdogs, died on April 15 in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 74 years old.

His son Michael said the death, in hospital, was caused by complications from a heart attack.

Friends and foes alike have called Mr. Devaney the big man, and not just because he has long retained the towering clout he once gave away as a college football player.

An administrative entrepreneur, he helped create the Financial Fraud Branch of the Secret Service, strengthened the enforcement capabilities of the Environmental Protection Agency, dismantled a corrupt agency within the Department of Interior as Inspector General and successfully kept the sweeping 2009 economic stimulus effort virtually fraud-free.

Mr. Devaney had a flair for flashy cases and congressional testimony that grabbed the headlines, not, he said, for themselves or to boost his career, but for their chilling effect.

“You can have an inspector general lurking in the shadows,” Felicia Marcus, a Stanford University fellow who worked with Devaney at the EPA, said in an interview. “He wasn’t lurking in the shadows.”

In his Home Office office he kept an alligator head with a hidden camera inside, which he used to film a ministry official engaged in a bribery deal on a fishing trip in the bayou of Louisiana.

“When an assistant secretary comes in and asks about it, I tell this story and they get a little pissed off,” he told The New York Times in 2009.

When he arrived at the Department of the Interior in 1999, many leaders had never met his predecessors and didn’t need him – the typical inspector general quietly released reports and could testify before Congress once in his career, but rarely did anyone do it. in that role, making an active effort to crush wrongdoing or bringing transparency to government operations, two things Mr. Devaney loved to do.

“Ed was remarkable because he recognized the full scope of an inspector general’s responsibilities,” Danielle Brian, executive director of the nonpartisan Government Oversight Project, said in an interview.

His most prominent case emerged during the George W. Bush administration in 2008, when he released a series of reports showing widespread misconduct at the Minerals Management Service, a branch of the Interior Department that collected about 10 billions of dollars in mining royalties on federal property.

The opportunities for corruption were immense, and Mr. Devaney and his team showed that government officials in the service manipulated contracts and received sports tickets and other gifts from industry officials while indulging in consumerism. drugs and sex with oil company employees in what he called “a culture of ethical failure.”

Although the department tried to reform the service, the failures identified by Mr Devaney were too great and it closed in 2011.

In another investigation, he singled out J. Steven Griles, the Undersecretary of the Interior, for corrupt practices linked to Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist; Mr. Griles denied the charges, but was later found guilty of lying to Congress about his ties to Mr. Abramoff and sentenced to prison.

Mr. Devaney’s highest profile post was his last. Although he promised his wife, Judy, that he would retire so they could move to Florida, Vice President Joseph R. Biden asked him in 2009 to act as an internal watchdog. for President Barack Obama’s gargantuan economic stimulus effort.

“I practiced all weekend saying no” to Mr. Biden, he told the Washington Post in 2011. that you might consider for me.'”

But then Mr. Biden took him into the Oval Office, where President Obama made the request.

“I hadn’t practiced saying no to a president,” he said.

Although he only stayed in the role for a few years, he was once again transformative. As head of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board — he preferred its acronym, the RAT Board — he oversaw the implementation of Recovery.gov, where members of the public could track progress (or lack thereof) government programs in their area, and he encouraged people inside and outside government to report abuses where they saw them.

“I want to allow Mr. and Mrs. Smith in Ohio to see exactly how the money is being spent,” he told The Times.

His efforts paid off: there was virtually no evidence of fraud when he retired on December 31, 2011, which was cheered by members of both political parties.

Earl Edward Devaney was born on June 8, 1947, to John and Claire Devaney in Reading, Mass., a northern suburb of Boston. His father owned a series of small businesses. Her mother was a model and actress.

He attended Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he studied government, played on the football team as a lineman, and graduated in 1970. Early on, he felt the lure of a career in criminal justice and worked summers as a police officer. on Cape Cod.

Along with his son, he is survived by his wife; another son, Matthew; and five grandchildren.

From college, Mr. Devaney went straight into the Secret Service, where he worked on presidential details for Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. It could be a perilous job: at one point he was slammed by a deranged woman who thought he was President Ford.

He was then transferred to the agency’s newly created white-collar crime division, where he distinguished himself as a particularly effective cop working at the pace of complex operations like the banking system.

Mr. Devaney left the Secret Service in 1991 to work at the EPA, where he bolstered the agency’s historically weak enforcement efforts.

And even though he had long since traded in his Secret Service weapon for a desktop computer, he could still move decisively when needed.

Once in San Francisco, he was walking with three EPA colleagues, including Ms. Marcus, on a hill after dinner. Mr. Devaney walked behind her.

“I felt the wind brush against my neck, but I didn’t give it much thought,” she recalls. “Then I turned around and saw that someone had tried to pull something out of my purse – and just as quickly Ed had grabbed the man and pushed him against a wall.”

“He had this mixture of grace and strength that is remarkable,” she said.

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