Bill would strengthen key oversight offices of the federal government
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three decades after Congress created inspectors general (IGs) to be the watchdogs in federal government agencies, the United States Senate unanimously approved passage of legislation championed by U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) to improve efficiency and accountability within the federal government by strengthening the inspector general system. The legislation, entitled the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, would work to guarantee that a forum exists for IGs to coordinate and share best practices, IGs remain independent from inappropriate influence or pressure from the government agencies they oversee, and that IG reports are easily accessible to the public.
The Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 was introduced last year in the Senate by McCaskill, Collins, and Lieberman. Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN), a long-time advocate for IG reform, introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives. After the Senate and the House passed their respective bills earlier this year, legislators from both chambers worked together to negotiate a compromise and agree on identical language. The Senate late yesterday passed the revised legislation unanimously, and the bill now heads to the House for its consideration.
“I came to Washington promising to make government more accountable to the taxpayer, and when I got here, this is the first piece of legislation I introduced,” said McCaskill. “Inspectors general are the eyes and ears inside the federal government that keep Washington in line. If we don’t ensure that IGs are qualified and independent then we are going to continue to see the kind of waste, fraud, and abuse that is costing the taxpayers billions every year.”
Collins said, “Inspectors General are vital partners in Congress’s effort to identify inefficient, ineffective, and improper government programs. The investigations and reports of IGs throughout the government help Congress shape legislation and oversight activities – improving government performance, providing important transparency into programs, and giving Americans better value for their tax dollar. The Inspector General Reform Act will improve the independence and effectiveness of Inspectors General and contribute to better relations among the IGs, the agencies they serve, and the Congress.”
“Like federal detectives, inspectors general ferret out waste, fraud, and abuse deep within each federal agency. Their audits have saved the taxpayers billions of dollars and exposed cases of serious misconduct and mismanagement. This legislation further strengthens the independence of the IGs as well as their accountability so that they can better perform their oversight work for the public interest,” Lieberman said.
This measure will provide greater independence for the IGs from the administration and agency officials, ensure that their oversight of government agencies is transparent and available to the public, and establish a council to share best practices, enhance training, develop inter-agency information-sharing policies, and generally strengthen the IG community.
Specifically, the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 requires that:
• Congress is notified 30 days in advance of a proposed removal of an IG, along with the reasons for the removal.
• All IGs have access to independent legal counsel, avoiding potential conflicts of interest with agency counsels.
• A Council on Integrity and Efficiency for Inspectors General is established. The mission of the Council is to address integrity, economy, and effectiveness issues that transcend individual government agencies and to increase the professionalism and effectiveness of IG personnel by helping to establish well-trained and highly skilled IG office workforces. Within the Council, an Integrity Committee must be created to investigate allegations of wrongdoing that are made against inspectors general or certain other staff members.
• Budget requests for each IG’s office must specifically identify how much money is being requested for training and how much is requested for the IG Council, helping to improve IG funding through greater visibility.
• All IG websites be directly accessible from the home page of agency web sites. All public IG reports must also be posted on agency websites within 3 working days of release.
• In the event of an IG vacancy, the Council for Integrity and Efficiency will recommend possible replacements.
• The president’s budget delineate how much money is requested for each IG office, as well as the funding level the IG requested for their office, allowing Congress to identify whether agencies are interfering with the work of an IG office through funding cuts.
• No IG may accept a bonus or a pay raise from their agency to discourage agencies from using monetary incentives to pressure IGs.
• All IGs be appointed without regard to political affiliation and on the basis of integrity, and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations.
• Pay is increased for all IGs to ensure enhanced independence, make their pay comparable to other senior agency officials, and to compensate for the prohibition on bonuses.
Lieberman also entered a statement for the record regarding passage of the bill.