By JAKE WIENS
Oversight of the executive branch got just a bit stronger last week with the confirmation of nominees to two key federal watchdog positions. Last Thursday, on the eve of the SIGTARP's one-year anniversary of operating without permanent leadership, the Senate voted to confirm Christy Romero as the head of the federal government’s bailout watchdog. The Senate confirmed Michael Horowitz to lead the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (DOJ IG) that same day.
Romero, who was nominated in February, had been serving as acting SIGTARP since the resignation last year of Neil Barofsky, who was renowned for leading aggressive and effective investigations of the $700 billion bank bailout program that frequently caused friction with the Obama administration. Romero has been on the SIGTARP staff since 2009, serving previously as chief of staff and acting deputy SIGTARP.
Horowitz was nominated for the DOJ IG position last fall, but an ongoing congressional investigation into a controversial DOJ gun-tracking program called Fast and the Furious reportedly contributed to the delay of his confirmation vote. The DOJ OIG is in the midst of conducting a politically sensitive investigation into the program and has been repeatedly pressed by Congress to release its findings. Horowitz was most recently a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, but previously he served as a federal prosecutor in charge of the public corruption unit in the Southern District of New York.
Romero and Horowitz’s confirmation brings the total number of IG vacancies down to ten, seven of which have been vacant for longer than a year, as shown in POGO’s “Where Are All the Watchdogs?” webpage. The webpage continually tracks the overall number of vacant IG positions, whose responsibility it is to fill the positions, and whether a nominee has been named or not.
POGO’s tracker shows that the majority of long-term vacancies require action by the Obama administration. Of the seven current vacancies that have lasted longer than a year, only two have nominees awaiting a confirmation vote: Deborah J. Jeffrey, the nominee for the Corporation for National & Community Service, and Roslyn A. Mazer, the nominee for Department of Homeland Security.
The Senate has generally acted quickly to confirm President Obama’s IG nominees. Over the course of the Obama administration, the Senate has confirmed 12 IG nominees, with the confirmation taking place an average of 118 days after the nomination, according to a POGO calculation based on information from a database maintained by the White House. The vacant IG offices that do not have a nominee pending have been vacant for an average of 606 days, with the longest vacancy occurring at the State Department, which has now been vacant without a nominee pending for 1,538 days.
Jake Wiens is a POGO investigator.