Congress moves to strengthen IG clout

Passed legislation, con­firmed 2 posts

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY AN­DREA NO­BLE

Congress has taken no­table steps to strengthen the au­thor­ity of in­spec­tors gen­eral this month by con­firm­ing nom­i­nees to two long-va­cant watch­dog posts and pass­ing legislation to pro­tect in­ves­ti­ga­tors’ ac­cess to doc­u­ments sought as part of fed­eral probes.

Law­mak­ers drafted legislation to coun­ter­act a 2015 Jus­tice Depart­ment le­gal opin­ion that forced fed­eral in­spec­tors gen­eral to get per­mis­sion from agencies they mon­i­tor for wire­taps and other in­ves­tiga­tive in­for­ma­tion — a re­quire­ment the watch­dogs warned could cur­tail their abil­ity to root out waste, fraud and abuse in fed­eral agencies.

The In­spec­tor Gen­eral Em­pow­er­ment Act heads to Pres­i­dent Obama’s desk for his sig­na­ture af­ter clear­ing the House on Thursday and the Se­nate on Satur­day.

Jus­tice Depart­ment In­spec­tor Gen­eral Michael E. Horowitz, who chairs the Coun­cil of the In­spec­tors Gen­eral on In­tegrity and Ef­fi­ciency, called the bill’s pas­sage “an im­por­tant mile­stone for good gov­ern­ment.”

“Pas­sage of the IG Em­pow­er­ment Act en­hances the IGs’ abil­ity to fight waste, fraud, abuse, and mis­con­duct, pro­tects whis­tle-blow­ers who share in­for­ma­tion with IGs, in­creases gov­ern­ment trans­parency, and bol­sters the pub­lic’s con­fi­dence in the in­de­pen­dence of IGs,” he said.

Prior dis­agree­ments over the level of ac­cess that in­spec­tors gen­eral need be­came a point of con­tention in 2010, when sev­eral agencies re­fused to pro­vide their in­spec­tors gen­eral with in­de­pen­dent ac­cess to agency in­for­ma­tion.

The prob­lem was com­pounded in 2015, when the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Of­fice of Le­gal Coun­sel de­ter­mined that the In­spec­tor Gen­eral Act of 1978 — which was writ­ten by Congress to cre­ate the gov­ern­ment watch­dogs to help main­tain in­tegrity within their agencies — did not give in­spec­tors gen­eral the au­thor­ity to over­ride nondis­clo­sure pro­vi­sions in other laws, most no­tably in re­gard to grand jury, wire­tap or fair credit in­for­ma­tion.

The law would en­sure in­spec­tors gen­eral have “timely ac­cess to all records, re­ports, au­dits, re­views, doc­u­ments, papers, rec­om­men­da­tions, or other ma­te­ri­als” that are re­lated to their over­sight of their re­spec­tive agency’s pro­grams and op­er­a­tions. Not in­cluded in the ap­proved bill was au­thor­ity for in­spec­tors gen­eral to sub­poena tes­ti­mony from agency con­trac­tors or for­mer agency em­ploy­ees.

Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, who in­tro­duced the Se­nate ver­sion of the bill, said it will en­sure in­spec­tors gen­eral have the tools and ac­cess they need to safe­guard tax­pay­ers’ money and to root out mis­con­duct.

“If we’ve learned one thing in the last year, it’s that gov­ern­ment needs more trans­parency and over­sight, not less. In­spec­tors gen­eral are our eyes and ears in gov­ern­ment,” the Iowa Repub­li­can said. “They are on the front lines in the fight against fraud, waste and mis­con­duct, but they can’t do their job if they can’t ac­cess the nec­es­sary gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments.”

The act also would re­quire the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice to ex­am­ine the prob­lem of long-va­cant in­spec­tor gen­eral po­si­tions — though there likely will be two fewer open posts to scru­ti­nize.

The Se­nate on Satur­day con­firmed the nom­i­na­tion of Peggy E. Gustafson as the Depart­ment of Com­merce in­spec­tor gen­eral and Jay Neal Lerner as Fed­eral De­posit In­sur­ance Cor­po­ra­tion in­spec­tor gen­eral. Both po­si­tions still re­quire a pres­i­den­tial com­mis­sion to be­come of­fi­cial, but ac­tion by the Se­nate closes the loop on two long open watch­dog posts.

The ap­proval of the two pend­ing nom­i­na­tions will leave va­cant nine of 36 in­spec­tor gen­eral po­si­tions that re­quire pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, said Mr. Horowitz.

Va­can­cies cur­rently span more than 2,800 days for the Depart­ment of In­te­rior po­si­tion to close to 200 days for the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, ac­cord­ing to the Project on Gov­ern­ment Over­sight.

The act re­quires that the GAO study the im­pact of long-term va­can­cies on in­spec­tor gen­eral po­si­tions, and to brief con­gres­sional com­mit­tees on find­ings within nine months.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.