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WASHINGTON – Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the breakdown of the Obama administration’s nomination process for America’s top government watchdog positions.

Johnson said the committee needs to understand “why this White House, who claimed to wanting to be the most transparent administration in history, has taken so long to fill so many positions of inspectors general.” The State Department went more than 1,701 days — more than four and a half years — without a permanent IG. The Department of Interior holds the record right now, at 2,291 days (over six years) without a permanent IG, and the Department of Labor went 1,555 days with a vacancy in that position. “Under President Obama, the average vacancy has been 613 days,” Johnson pointed out.

He noted the effect: The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has been without a permanent Inspector General since December 2013.  “These are issues of life or death,” said Johnson, citing the case of a Wisconsin veteran who died at the troubled VA Medical Center in Tomah. The veteran’s daughter told Johnson, that had she been warned, she wouldn’t have taken her father to the center. “In other words,” said Johnson, “if the Office of the Inspector General had only issued a report so the public understood the problems at the Tomah VA, she never would have taken her father (to) where he basically died of neglect.”

Ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) agreed with Johnson, saying, “This administration needs to be doing a better job. … The idea of having a vacancy for the IG at the Department of Veterans Affairs for a year and a half – unacceptable. The idea of having a vacancy at the Department of Interior for five years – really unacceptable.”

In addition to highlighting the problems at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs IG office, Johnson discussed with the panelists issues with IG offices both past and present, including the former acting IG for the Department of Homeland Security, Charles Edwards, the former acting IG for the Department of State, Harold Geisel, and allegations against the current IG of the Department of Commerce. 

Johnson asked the Chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and Inspector General for the Department of Justice, Michael Horowitz, testifying before the committee, “I believe the maximum number of days that somebody can serve as an acting IG is 210 days. Correct?”  

“That’s my understanding,” Horowitz responded.

“How many acting IGs have exceeded that?” Johnson asked.

“Well, since, as I mentioned, seven of the eight vacancies will exceed one year, that’s certainly more than 210 days.” In his opening testimony, Horowitz told the committee, “As of today there are eight IG positions that remain vacant. As of the end of this month, all of these positions with the exception of the CIA inspector general position will have been vacant for over one year.”

“How does the administration get around that statutory requirement?” Johnson asked.

“Well, what has happened is the acting IGs, which are often the deputy inspectors general, simply fall back to be the deputy inspectors general, and there is no acting and there is no confirmed IG,” Horowitz answered.

“So it’s really form over substance? … There’s got to be some enforcement mechanism for that statutory requirement,” Johnson said. “Is that basically your understanding?”

“Somebody needs to make some decisions with regard to that. Certainly the best way to do it is to get nominees pending and confirmed,” Horowitz said.

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Chairman Johnson’s full written opening statement can be found here.

The full hearing can be viewed here.