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

Earl E. Devaney, who began his career as a Secret Service agent guarding President Richard M. Nixon and rising to become one of the U.S. government’s most aggressive and feared internal watchdogs, died April 15 in Boca Raton , Fla. He was 74.

His son Michael said the death at a hospital was caused by complications of a heart attack.

Both friends and foes called Mr. Devaney the great man, and not just because he long retained the impressive strength he once gave as a college football player.

An administrative entrepreneur, he helped build the Secret Service’s financial fraud department, gave real teeth to the environmental protection agency’s enforcement capacity, shut down a corrupt Interior Ministry agency as its inspector general, and managed to keep the big 2009 economic stimulus effort virtually free of fraud.

Mr. Devaney had a flair for flashy cases and headline-grabbing congressional testimony, not for their own sake or to bolster his career, but for their deterrent effect.

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

At his home office, he kept an alligator head with a camera tucked inside that he had used to film an official in a department involved in a bribery deal while on a fishing trip in Louisiana Bayou.

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

When he arrived at the Interior Ministry in 1999, many people in management had never met his predecessors, nor did they – the typical Inspector General issued silent reports and perhaps testified before Congress once in his or her career, but rarely did anyone. in this role make an active effort to kill offenses or to create transparency in government operations, two things that Mr. Devaney enjoyed doing.

“Ed was a standout because he recognized the full breadth of an inspector’s responsibility,” Danielle Brian, executive director of the non-partisan Project on Government Oversight, said in an interview.

His biggest case surfaced during the George W. Bush administration in 2008, when he published a series of reports showing widespread dishonesty at the Minerals Management Service, a Department of the Interior that raised about $ 10 billion in federal property mining royalties.

The possibilities for corruption were enormous, and Mr Devaney and his team showed that officials in the service had manipulated contracts and received sports tickets and other gifts from industry officials while engaging in drug use and sex with employees of the oil companies in what he called . “a culture of ethical failure.”

Although the department was trying to reform the service, the bugs were identified by Mr. Devaney too big, and it closed in 2011.

In another investigation, he faked J. Steven Griles, the deputy secretary of state, for corrupt practices related to Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist; Griles denied the charges, but was later convicted of lying to Congress about his ties to Mr Abramoff and sentenced to prison.

Mr. Devaney’s most high-profile post was his last. Although he had 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 the internal watchdog for President Barack Obama’s gigantic economic recovery efforts.

“I practiced all weekend saying no” to Mr. Biden, he told The Washington Post in 2011. “Something like ‘I’m really honored’ or ‘Let me give you some names you could consider instead of me’.”

But then Mr. Biden took him into the oval office where President Obama asked.

“I had not practiced saying no to a president,” he said.

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

“I want to enable 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 withdrew on December 31, 2011, to great acclaim from members of both political parties.

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

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

Together with his son he is left to his wife; another son, Matthew; and five grandchildren.

From college, Mr. Devaney directly into the Secret Service, where he worked on the presidential details of both Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. It could be dangerous work: At one point, he came under fire from an insane woman who thought he was President Ford.

He later switched to the agency’s newly created department of white collar crime, where he marked himself as a highly efficient officer who worked the pace in complex operations such as the banking system.

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

And even though he had long ago swapped his Secret Service agent’s gun for a desktop computer, he could still move resolutely when needed.

Once in San Francisco, he walked with three EPA colleagues, including Mrs. Marcus, up a hill after dinner. Mr. Devaney walked behind her.

“I felt a gust of wind against my throat, but did not think much about it,” she remembered. “Then I turned around and saw that someone had tried to grab something out of my purse – and that Ed had just as quickly grabbed the man and pushed him against a wall.”

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

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