WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bipartisan bill led by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) to provide Inspectors General with additional protections has advanced in the Senate. The legislation, which will strengthen independent oversight of the federal government’s effectiveness, was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where Peters serves as Chair and Portman serves as Ranking Member. The bill, which is based on legislation Peters and Portman introduced earlier this year with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), also includes provisions authored by U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH). A similar effort, led by U.S. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, has already passed the House of Representatives.
“It’s critical that federal watchdogs are able to work independently and without political interference in order to save taxpayer dollars and hold government accountable,” said Senator Peters. “These long overdue bipartisan reforms will help ensure that no administration is able to undermine inspectors general as they help Congress prevent and uncover fraud, waste, and abuse in the federal government.”
“Inspectors General are essential to good government. Congress has a responsibility to conduct oversight of the executive branch and that responsibility would be far more difficult without Inspectors General. That’s why I’m pleased the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed our bipartisan IG Independence and Empowerment Act which will bolster protections, enhance authorities, and provide transparency for Inspectors General,” said Senator Portman. “This legislation will strengthen the 2008 IG protection law that has been routinely flouted by successive administrations from both political parties, increase transparency, grant testimonial subpoena authority with appropriate congressional safeguards, and require presidents to provide substantive rationale for the removal of IGs. I urge my colleagues to support this common-sense legislation to protect the independence of the IG community.”
“Our democracy works better when we hold government accountable and root out waste, fraud, and abuse,” said Senator Hassan. “Yet Inspectors General cannot complete their investigations and fully evaluate government programs if witnesses refuse to cooperate. I am glad that this committee passed bipartisan legislation that includes my proposal with Sen. Grassley (R-IA) to allow Inspectors General to subpoena the witness testimony necessary to carry out an investigation. This bipartisan bill will strengthen government oversight and help ensure that taxpayer dollars are put to good use.”
“Presidents from both political parties have a sordid history of ignoring inspector general protection laws. Flawed court opinions have only enabled further abuse of congressional intent when we enacted watchdog protections. Congress can only expect more of the same if we don’t clarify the law,” said Senator Grassley. “With today’s Senate committee approval, inspectors general are one step closer to better protections from inappropriate interference and removal. It also means we are one step closer to a government that is more accountable to the American taxpayer.”
The amended Inspector General Independence and Empowerment Act clarifies the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act by requiring any administration to provide a “substantive rationale, including detailed and case-specific reasons” prior to removing an IG. It also limits the use of administrative leave for Inspectors General (IGs), including during the 30 days following the removal announcement. 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. To protect the integrity of investigations and audits during an IG transition, the bill requires regular training to IG employees on their whistleblower rights. Finally, the legislation also provides federal watchdogs the authority to subpoena the testimony of contractors and former federal officials.
Peters and Portman recently convened a hearing with federal inspectors general to discuss the urgent need for these bipartisan reforms and to examine the importance of providing federal watchdogs with protections to strengthen independent oversight of the government’s effectiveness. In addition, the legislation advanced by the committee today has been endorsed by the Council on Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.