Three decades after Congress first created government watchdogs within each federal agency to enforce greater government accountability, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators introduced legislation today that would significantly strengthen the Inspector General (IG) system for the future.
Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), and Tom Coburn (R-OK) today filed the Inspector General Reform Act of 2007 (S. 2324) which will build upon the strong tradition of inspectors general by guaranteeing that qualified individuals are appointed as IGs, that they remain independent of pressure or influence from the government agencies they investigate, and all IG reports and audits are easily accessible to the public
"Inspectors general are very important to making sure this government is accountable to the American people. They have served us well for thirty years, and now it's time to make sure they have the resources and protections they need for the future," Senator McCaskill said.
"Inspectors General are vital partners in Congress's effort to identify inefficient, ineffective, and improper government programs. The investigations and reports of IGs throughout the government help Congress shape legislation and oversight activities - improving government performance, providing important transparency into programs, and giving Americans better value for their tax dollar," said Senator Collins. "The Inspector General Reform Act of 2007 would improve the independence and effectiveness of Inspectors General and contribute to better relations among the IGs, the agencies they serve, and the Congress."
"It has been almost 30 years since Congress passed the Inspectors General Act of 1978 that created an office of Inspector General to hold major departments and agencies accountable to the public interest. The experiment has been a great success, hailed as a kind of consumer protector for the taxpayer deep within each agency. Now, after several incidents in which the independence of Inspectors General seems to be threatened - as well as some incidents of apparent IG misconduct -- we need to revisit the legislation. This legislation will strengthen the independence and accountability of IG offices so that they can continue to be a force for good government," Senator Lieberman said.
"Inspectors general are true champions for the taxpayers and annually save taxpayers billions of dollars in their quest to root out waste, fraud and abuse. This bill is a great first step to making them more effective. The most important step, however, will be for elected officials to respond to their findings and eliminate the waste and other abuses of the public's trust uncovered by inspectors general," said Senator Coburn.
The bill comes after a series of accounts revealing the intimidation felt by IGs from top agency officials. CIA IG John Helgerson is currently the subject of an internal investigation of his activities as IG, and GSA Administrator Lorita Doan has been openly critical of her agency's OIG and tried to cut the budget and responsibilities of the office.
The legislation introduced today aims to strengthen IG offices by ensuring the independence of IGs as they review government agencies, while also establishing a committee to investigate allegations of wrongdoing against inspectors general and their staff.
Specifically, the legislation will require that:
Congress is notified of any proposed removal of an IG, along with the reasons for the removal, in writing with 30-days notice.
All IGs must have their own legal counsel or access to the services of legal counsel of another Inspector General. This will allow them to avoid using agency counsels.
A Council on Integrity and Efficiency for Inspectors General must be established. Within the Council, an Integrity Committee must be created to receive, review, and refer for investigation allegations of wrongdoing that are made against Inspectors General or certain other staff members.
All IG websites are directly accessible from the home page of agency web sites. All IG reports must be posted on agency websites within 3 working days of its release.
In the event of a vacancy, the Council for Integrity and Efficiency will recommend to the appointing authority three possible replacements.
The president's budget submission must state how much money they are requesting for each IG office, as well as the funding level the IG requested for their office. This will allow Congress to identify whether agencies are trying to interfere with the work of an IG office by cutting funding.
No IG may accept a bonus.
Presidentially appointed IGs must be paid at Level III of the Executive Schedule, plus three percent and other IGs must receive compensation comparable to other senior level executives in the department. This is aimed at preventing agencies from discouraging qualified candidates by lowering pay.
Similar legislation introduced by Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN) in the House of Representatives received overwhelming bipartisan approval with a vote of 404-11.