WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, today introduced bipartisan legislation to protect Inspectors General (IGs) at federal agencies, following the dismissal of several independent watchdogs by the Trump Administration. The Securing Inspector General Independence Act, which strengthens a 2008 IG protection law, is also cosponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), James Lankford (R-OK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
“Inspectors General work tirelessly to prevent waste, fraud and abuse, and ensure taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently,” said Senator Peters. “These watchdogs must be able to conduct their work independently and without the threat of political interference – yet recent attacks by President Trump threaten to undermine their ability to do their critical jobs. We must ensure that this, and future, administrations are not able to undercut the transparency and accountability that Inspectors General provide to the American people. I’m proud to help lead this important, bipartisan effort to shield these public servants from political interference and ensure they can continue to hold the federal government accountable to taxpayers.”
“The Obama administration set bad precedent when it ignored the inspector general protection law, but a court upheld its actions, and the Trump administration applied the same standard,” said Grassley. “Congress should expect more of the same from future administrations if it doesn’t act to clarify the law. This bill spells out Congress’ expectations from the Executive Branch when the President decides to remove an IG and prevents conflicts of interest that can arise when IGs are replaced with political appointees.”
Though the Constitution establishes the President’s authority to manage executive branch employees, the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act requires the President to provide Congress with a written explanation at least 30 days prior to removing an IG to prevent politically-motivated terminations. President Trump has now removed two IGs without the level of detail Congress had intended under the law, using the same vague language that Congress determined was insufficient in 2009, when President Obama fired AmeriCorps IG Gerald Walpin. A court later ruled that the Obama Administration was not required to provide additional reasons prior to removing an IG – a case cited by the Trump Administration when it initially refused to provide the level of details requested by Peters, Grassley and their colleagues following President Trump’s removal of Intelligence Community IG Michael Atkinson and State Department IG Steve Linick. President Trump has also removed two acting IGs, and has named three political appointees as acting IGs—a threat to the independence and effectiveness of these critical offices.
The Securing Inspector General Independence Act clarifies the 2008 law by requiring any administration to provide the “substantive rationale, including detailed and case-specific reasons” prior to removing an IG. It also limits the use of administrative leave for IGs, including during the 30 days following the removal announcement, which has been used to effectively sideline IGs during the 30-day period. To ensure the independence of the IG community, the bill requires acting IGs to be selected from among senior-level employees within the watchdog community. Finally, to protect the integrity of investigations and audits during an IG transition, the bill requires regular training to IG employees on their whistleblower rights.
The bill is endorsed by the National Whistleblower Center, Government Accountability Project, and the Partnership for Public Service. The Council on Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency was consulted during the bill’s creation.