WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) introduced a bill Thursday to amend the Inspector General Act of 1978. This legislation would strengthen the independence of inspectors general by authorizing them to write testimonial subpoenas for federal government contractors and former federal employees and to review computer matching data without first going through the agency, would improve the way misconduct by Office of Inspector General officials is investigated, and would promote more transparency and cooperation between the offices and Congress.
Senator Johnson said, “Inspectors general at each agency perform a crucial mission: to root out waste, fraud and mismanagement within the federal government. Not coincidentally, it’s a mission almost identical to the goals we have for my committee. For years now we have heard from inspectors general about what they need to do their work well, and this week, inspectors general testified in front of our committee on the ways that agencies and overly burdensome legislation continue to prevent or delay their investigations. We should not delay any longer. This bill gives inspectors general more tools to investigate agencies and ferret out improper payments, and it helps ensure the independence of our federal watchdogs. These are bipartisan goals, and I’m pleased this is something we can come together on.”
Senator Grassley said, “The lengthy delays in resolving allegations against inspectors general have made it clear that the time for reform is now. An inspector general might be sidelined or have the office distracted for months and even years while these cases are under review. That’s not good for agency oversight or the morale of inspector general employees. It’s not helpful for the taxpayers. This legislation cuts these delays so cases are resolved in a reasonable amount of time or Congress gets an explanation of why not. Inspectors general need to be on the job, working for taxpayers. This legislation also addresses important independence issues and strengthens the ability of inspectors general to gather the facts. For example, it allows inspectors general to subpoena witnesses, so senior officials aware of wrongdoing can’t just escape to retirement and avoid cooperating with the inspector general’s investigation. If inspectors general aren’t given every tool to investigate allegations of waste, fraud, and abuse, they aren’t able to give the taxpayers their full bang for the buck.”
Senator McCaskill said, “As a former prosecutor and auditor, I understand the critical work these watchdogs do to guard against waste, fraud, and abuse in our government. This bipartisan legislation will help give them the tools they need to do effective, efficient oversight work, which I’m hopeful can give Americans a little more faith in the transparency and accountability of their government.”
Here is a short overview of the Senators’ bill:
- Limits the president and the agency’s ability to interfere with an OIG by putting an IG on indefinite administrative leave.
- Gives IGs limited authority to issue testimonial subpoenas to federal contractors and former federal employees if the subpoena is approved by the Council of the Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) and if it does not interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation by the Department of Justice.
- Exempts IGs from the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988 and the Paperwork Reduction Act so they can more readily compare records and gather information from agencies without agencies’ approval.
- Revises the membership of CIGIE’s Integrity Committee to better and more fairly handle investigations.
- Requires GAO to report on the numbers and effects of IG vacancies.
- Requires IGs to keep Congress better informed of issues such as agency failure to reprimand employees after misconduct, attempts to interfere with IGs’ independence, retaliation against whistleblowers, or IG reports kept from the public.