Following reports that John Sopko-the independent watchdog overseeing U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan-has described efforts by other federal officials to interfere with his investigations into waste and fraud, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today blasted such political pressure, and pledged to "bring this fight to every corner of the federal government" to protect the independence and integrity of federal offices of Inspectors General.
Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), said this week that representatives from other federal agencies had told him to stop publicizing critical audits that detail waste, corruption, and mismanagement of taxpayer dollars and rebuilding efforts. He also described officials asking to "pre-screen or edit" his reports. In a letter to Sopko today (available on her website, HERE), McCaskill-Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight-asked the Inspector General to provide further details of political pressure, and promised to demand answers from federal agencies and officials.
"Our Inspectors General are the eyes and ears of taxpayers within each federal agency-they're the ones protecting our tax dollars from waste, and they're the ones to call out federal officials for abuse of power," said McCaskill, the former Missouri State Auditor who led the effort to replace Sopko's predecessor for incompetence and mismanagement. "Their work is what can give the American people confidence that their government is functioning the way it should. And if their independence is being threatened with political interference, then I'm going to bring this fight to every corner of the federal government, to protect the integrity of their work."
McCaskill added that it "wasn't all that surprising" that employees of the three federal agencies mainly overseen by the SIGAR-the Departments of Defense and State, and the Agency for International Development (AID)-may not appreciate the importance of independent watchdog, since all three agencies lack a permanent Inspector General. The State Department has now lacked an Inspector General for more than five years, while those positions at the Defense Department and AID have both been vacant since 2011.
McCaskill used a Senate hearing last year to chastise the White House for leaving such positions vacant for so long, listing the agencies which lacked Inspectors General: "We do not have SIGAR, we do not have DOD, we do not have State, we do not have AID, in terms of an appointed and confirmed Inspector General... I find it appalling that these people have not been appointed. And there is a long list of qualified people to hold these jobs... And I do not understand why this is taking so long. If you look at the world of Inspectors General, and the money that's being spent-how these positions can go vacant for this period of time is beyond me. And I'm hoping that the White House gets busy."
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction position was created by Congress in 2008 with the purpose of detecting and preventing waste, fraud, and abuse in Afghanistan. In 2010, McCaskill successfully called on the President to remove then Special Inspector General Arnold Fields amid concerns of incompetence and mismanagement. Following Fields' dismissal, McCaskill repeatedly pushed the President to appoint a new permanent watchdog. Sopko was appointed as Special Inspector General in May 2012.
As Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight-charged with protecting taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse-McCaskill has held multiple hearings investigating the mismanagement of reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan. Last year, after identifying up to $60 billion in contracting waste in Iraq and Afghanistan, McCaskill passed an historic reform bill overhauling how federal contracts are awarded and monitored during military contingencies.