By Mike Rhoads, June 16, 2021
At the end of the previous administration “at least a dozen of the 38 presidentially appointed inspectors general” positions were left vacant. Now that the transition dust has settled and a new Presidential administration has taken hold, members of Congress have started to re-examine the role of the Office of Inspector General.
A couple of bills have proposed changes to The Inspector General Act of 1978.
Legislative Support from Congress
Nextgov reported that “new legislation in Congress to support IG subpoenas The Inspector General Testimonial Subpoena Authority Act, introduced by Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, would empower IGs to subpoena former federal officials, as well as contractors and grantees, for in-person testimony.”
The current law only allows IGs to subpoena current Federal employees, while the new law would allow IGs to pursue those who leave the Federal service in US District Court.
Sen. Grassley said: “This bill empowers inspectors general to compel testimony from former employees so bad actors in government can’t simply run from accountability by exiting government.”
Another bill recently proposed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., Chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and other Democratic House members is the IG Independence and Empowerment Act. As reported in Government Executive, the bill would amend the 1978 Inspector General Act and do the following:
- Only allow IGs to be removed for cause.
- Require a president to notify Congress before an IG is put on non-duty status.
- Require only current IGs or senior IG staff to serve as acting IGs.
- Add information the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency must include in its reports to Congress and make more of its information available to Congress.
- Give IGs the authority to subpoena witnesses who aren’t current government employees (such as those who previously served in government).
- Allow the Justice Department IG to investigate misconduct by the department’s attorneys instead of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
- Expand whistleblower training for employees in IG offices and IGs themselves.
- Require notifications to Congress and CIGIE about an IG’s ongoing investigations when an IG is put on non-duty status.
- Give CIGIE a single appropriation.
- Require IGs to alert Congress if agencies deny their access to information requested.
Amendments were introduced which sought to modify the provision on subpoena authority, and the provisions regarding presidents removing IGs, limitations on who can serve as acting IGs, and subpoena authority for IGs. These amendments were ultimately voted down. Stay tuned to see if these reforms make their way through the legislative process.
New Tools for IGs Needed
In addition to legislative protections, Inspectors General need up-to-date tools to keep up with the demands of modern data analysis. IGs may still have to comb through boxes of subpoenaed papers, but the data requested is often complex and too voluminous to go through each document individually, whether in physical or digital form. A modern workforce requires innovative, digital tools for the OIG to do its job efficiently and effectively.
In a conversation on Federal News Network, Steven Burke, the chairman of the Investigation subcommittee of the Technology committee of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), said, “one of the ways to overcome those challenges is with good business relationships among government customers and external data owners.
“The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 and more transparency of government information on websites such as IGNET.gov, which is hosted by CIGIE, Oversight.gov and the White House; to government transparency of COVID-19 pandemic relief spending are all good opportunities to see where information is going.”
Momentum has shifted for the Inspector General community. Their work keeps our government from riding off the rails and keeps the ship of state upright and moving in the right direction. An OIG’s mission is fundamentally bipartisan and should not be influenced by shifting political winds. They should be given the necessary tools to ensure the work of the people’s government is not misused or mistreated.
The job of IGs and their staff is often misunderstood. To better understand the relationship between the Office of Inspector General and its agency, join Scott Boehm on June 24 from 1 – 2:00 pm ET for Not a One-Way Street: How OIGs and Agencies Can Successfully Work Together. Find out how your Office of Inspector General is working to make your agency a better place.
Stay safe, and remember, we’re all in this together. Rhoads@FELTG.com