Senator McCaskill (D-MO) introduced legislation in the Senate yesterday calling for greater independence for Inspector Generals in federal agencies. Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN) has introduced similar legislation in the House earlier in February this year.
The increased attention from Congress on the role of the inspector general is a reaction from a series of recent scandals and controversies that have surrounded the office. Inspectors General at the Department of Commerce, the General Services Administration, and most recently, NASA (for our executive director Danielle Brian’s testimony before a House Committee regarding the NASA IG, click here), have been under attack by Department heads or criticized that they did not maintain adequate independence from the agency that they are supposed to be overseeing. In fact, the House has held a general hearing on the independence of inspector generals and what can be improved to increase the effectiveness of the government’s first line of defense against waste, fraud, and corruption.
These recent problems have shown that something must be done to improve the effectiveness of the IG office, and POGO applauds Congressional attention to this very little-known but very important office in the federal government. A few sections of Senator McCaskill’s legislation that are particularly important:
1) The legislation will allow Inspectors Generals to use independent legal counsel instead of relying on the legal counsel provided by the agency. In order to achieve independence from the agency, IGs must have independent legal advice about how to do their job.
2) No IG can accept bonuses, since they are awarded by the heads of the agencies. Accepting these bonuses creates an inherent conflict-of-interest, since there will be a monetary incentive for IGs to compromise the performance of their job in order to curry favor with the head of the agency.
3) Finally, in the event of a vacancy, the Council on Integrity and Efficiency is authorized to recommend three qualified candidates; however, the Council is not given appointment authority.
Hopefully Congress can come up with effective amendments to the Inspector General Act of 1978 to ensure that the office of the Inspector General is up to the task of overseeing federal agencies in the 21st century.
- Michael Zhou