WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday called for legislation to strengthen the independence and accountability of federal Inspectors General after hearing from current and former IGs about the challenges they face as federal agency watchdogs.

The hearing was called in the context of reports that some Inspectors General have been retaliated against by agency heads for critical investigations, while other IGs have lacked appropriate independence from their agency heads.

“On the one hand, we have heard reports of the independence of Inspectors General being threatened,” Lieberman said. “On the other hand, we’ve had several IGs step down amid allegations about their conduct. We need to start exploring the question of how best to balance the need of the IG offices to be an independent, investigative force for good government practices within their departments and agencies, while still ensuring that those investigations are thorough and fair.”

According to the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, last year alone IG audits resulted in $9.9 billion in potential savings and another $6.8 billion in savings when the results of civil and criminal investigations are added in.

“We need to improve the existing Inspectors General legislation to encourage and maintain the independence that is crucial if these offices are to carry on their vitally important jobs of ensuring that taxpayers’ money is spent efficiently and that the executive departments of our government carry out their jobs fairly,” Lieberman said.

“The Inspectors General in the federal government perform invaluable services for the people of the United States,” noted Senator Collins. “They serve the taxpayers’ interest in making government operations more efficient, effective, and economical. They assist Congress in performing its oversight duties and in determining when investigations or legislative reforms are in order. They detect and report criminal activity. They alert agency heads to problems within their organizations. We need to do all that we can to maintain and strengthen America’s IGs.”

Witnesses at the hearing included Department of Justice IG Glenn Fine and Department of the Interior IG Earl Devaney. Lieberman praised Fine’s reports on DOJ’s sloppy and often inappropriate use of National Security Letters to conduct wiretaps within the United States and Devaney’s investigation into ethical lapses by Interior Department officials. Lieberman said they were “models of what an IG should be.”

The remaining witnesses included Clay Johnson III, Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget; Eleanor J. Hill, former Inspector General of the Department of Defense; and Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight.

Two pieces of legislation to strengthen IGs are now before the Committee: S. 680, introduced by Collins, and S.1723, introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.