WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday alongside his colleagues Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in support of S. 579, the Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2015.
The bipartisan legislation was reported unanimously out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this year and provides much-needed authorities for inspectors general to ensure they can perform their watchdog responsibilities in an efficient and independent manner. “I am pleased that a bipartisan group of senators came together to make clear once again that inspectors general must have unfettered access to all agency documents,” Johnson said of the committee passage.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Grassley has 13 cosponsors, five of them Democrats and eight of them Republicans, one of whom is Johnson. The bill was blocked Tuesday with scant explanation, however, by Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, leader of the Senate Democrats.
The importance of inspectors general was made clear in the scandal of overprescriptions at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah, Wis., when the inspector general office for the Department of Veterans Affairs investigated the allegations but did not publicly release its findings. The legislation requires the public posting of inspector general findings.
On the floor Tuesday, Johnson remarked, “I cannot imagine anything controversial about wanting inspectors generals to have access to the people and the documents they need to do their jobs. Americans deserve an accountable, transparent and effective government, and this is one tangible thing that we can do to help achieve that common goal.”
Sen. Grassley thanked the bill’s cosponsors in his remarks on Tuesday. “I especially want to thank Sen. Johnson and Sen. McCaskill,” he said, “for working closely with me on this legislation from the very beginning and for their work on getting this through the committee.”
After the bill’s proponents spoke, Sen. Harry Reid objected to Sen. Grassley’s request for unanimous consent of the bill on the Senate floor, refusing to give a reason.
Johnson joined Grassley in voicing his disappointment at the blockage, citing a tragic case of a Wisconsin veteran. “What is the objection to giving inspectors general the tools they need to provide the accountability, the transparency, to safeguard the American taxpayer money?” he asked. “Because an inspector general was not transparent, because the VA Inspector General held 140 reports on inspections and investigations, the family of Thomas Baer did not realize there were problems. They took their father to that health care facility, and their father died of a stroke because of neglect. That’s how important this is, and yet we can’t even hear the reason behind the objection to allowing this very common-sense piece of legislation to pass? This is very disappointing.”