Johnson Holds Hearing About Federal Watchdogs: “Improving the Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Independence of Inspectors General”

WASHINGTON – The Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) heard from inspectors general Tuesday how the independent watchdogs overseeing federal agencies can perform their work more effectively. Four inspectors general testified about their difficulty in getting information from agencies, about threats to their independence, and about the difficulties caused by long-term vacancies in inspector general posts. 

Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.)  were among the senators who heard from Michael E. Horowitz, inspector general (IG) for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, Steve A. Linick, IG for the Department of State, John Roth, IG for the Department of Homeland Security, and Patrick P. O’Carroll, IG for the Social Security Administration. 

During questioning, Johnson honed in on the reason for widespread vacancies in IG posts. “Is it just lack of available individuals?” he asked. “Is it lack of will?” 

Horowitz cited problems in the nomination and vetting process, testifying that among the 11 vacant IG positions, only one nominee is pending. “That’s a problem,” Johnson said. “If there are plenty of people that are available for the position, we need to get those nominated, and certainly I think this committee will be dedicated to moving those through the confirmation process as quickly as possible.”   

Horowitz also testified about resistance from federal agencies to disclosing information to inspectors general. He cited how the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) freely shared information requested for a particular IG probe until 2010. “No law changed,” Horowitz said. “No policy changed. . . . It was simply a decision by the General Counsel’s Office in 2010 that they viewed now the law differently. And as a result, they weren’t going to give us that information.” 

After Roth testified that a failure to pass a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security would shut down that department’s IG activity, Johnson commented, “I think we all agree that we should absolutely fund the authorized, the legal, the essential elements of the Department of Homeland Security. I think we all want to do that. …  There’s certainly an aspect of this funding issue that we don’t agree on. Let’s set that off to the side. It’s in the courts now. This could be solved tomorrow if President Obama, if Secretary Jeh Johnson said, ‘Okay, let’s let the courts decide this. Let’s fund those essential, the legal, the constitutional, the authorized activity of the DHS.’ … I hope that we can do that.” 

View the entire hearing here.

Watch Chairman Johnson’s opening statement here.

Text of  Chairman Johnson’s opening statement here.