Gain in le­gal pro­tec­tions, loss in num­ber of IGs

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY ANDREA NOBLE

The in­spec­tors gen­eral for fed­eral agen­cies will have new le­gal pro­tec­tions as they in­ves­ti­gate waste, fraud and abuse in the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion thanks to leg­is­la­tion signed this month by out­go­ing Pres­i­dent Obama.

But open gov­ern­ment ad­vo­cates are con­cerned that in the wan­ing days of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, law­mak­ers are miss­ing an­other op­por­tu­nity to strengthen the watch­dog com­mu­nity.

One-quar­ter of the 36 in­spec­tor gen­eral po­si­tions that re­quire presidential nom­i­na­tion do not have a per­ma­nent agency head in place, leav­ing the po­si­tions va­cant with act­ing in­spec­tors gen­eral fill­ing in and mul­ti­ple nom­i­nees wait­ing for con­fir­ma­tion votes.

Sean Moul­ton, man­ager of the Open Gov­ern­ment Pro­gram of the Project on Gov­ern­ment Over­sight, said he wor­ries that, if the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion doesn’t ap­ply pres­sure on the Se­nate to act on the pres­i­dent’s in­spec­tor gen­eral nom­i­nees be­fore he leaves of­fice, the po­si­tions will go un­filled for a sig­nif­i­cant pe­riod in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“The worry we would have is IGs are not al­ways a high enough pri­or­ity. The in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion al­ready has a lot on their plate,” Mr. Moul­ton said. “My con­cern would be, if we get a good nom­i­na­tion and sit on it, we could be look­ing at months be­fore the next ad­min­is­tra­tion gets to it.”

In­spec­tors gen­eral typ­i­cally re­main in of­fice as presidential ad­min­is­tra­tions change, and Congress took no­table steps to bol­ster their au­thor­ity this month by con­firm­ing two nom­i­nees to long-va­cant watch­dog posts. But one of the re­cently ap­proved ap­pointees was taken for an­other post, leav­ing nine pres­i­den­tially ap­pointed po­si­tions up for grabs.

In its presidential tran­si­tion hand­book, the Coun­cil of the In­spec­tors Gen­eral on In­tegrity and Ef­fi­ciency en­cour­ages the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion to promptly fill all va­cant in­spec­tor gen­eral po­si­tions.

“The IG within each agency is a crit­i­cally im­por­tant po­si­tion, and va­cant po­si­tions should be filled with a per­ma­nent IG as quickly as fea­si­ble,” the re­port states.

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

The slate of Mr. Obama’s pend­ing nom­i­nees will be wiped clean at the start of the year, mean­ing the pres­i­dent would have to sub­mit the nom­i­na­tions again or let them sit va­cant un­til Mr. Trump takes over and makes his own se­lec­tions.

Jus­tice Depart­ment In­spec­tor Gen­eral Michael E. Horowitz, who chairs the Coun­cil of the In­spec­tors Gen­eral on In­tegrity and Ef­fi­ciency, said there is prece­dent for a new ad­min­is­tra­tion to renom­i­nate ap­pointees from the prior ad­min­is­tra­tion.

By the na­ture of the work that in­spec­tors gen­eral do, Mr. Horowitz said, a good nom­i­nee should not be a par­ti­san choice.

“We want to pick peo­ple who, no mat­ter who is in the White House or our agen­cies, are go­ing to do the tax­pay­ers’ work,” he said. “We are not go­ing to curry fa­vor and go out of our way to be un­fair to an ad­min­is­tra­tion ei­ther. Those nom­i­nees should be peo­ple that ei­ther party can sup­port.”

Though Mr. Trump has trum­peted his com­mit­ment to weed out waste, fraud and abuse as a way to bal­ance the budget, his tran­si­tion team has of­fered no in­di­ca­tion of any nom­i­nees for in­spec­tor gen­eral po­si­tions.

Go­ing for­ward, cur­rent and fu­ture in­spec­tors gen­eral will have ad­di­tional le­gal pro­tec­tions. Mr. Obama last week signed leg­is­la­tion that en­sures in­ves­ti­ga­tors get ac­cess to doc­u­ments sought as part of fed­eral probes. Law­mak­ers drafted the In­spec­tor Gen­eral Em­pow­er­ment Act 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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Michael Horowitz, who chairs the Coun­cil of the In­spec­tors Gen­eral on In­tegrity and Ef­fi­ciency, said a good nom­i­nee should not be par­ti­san.

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