The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs today gave unanimous approval of bipartisan legislation that would significantly strengthen the Inspector General (IG) system. The bill is now headed to the Senate floor for a vote, which senators are hopeful will occur by the end of the year.
The Inspector General Reform Act of 2007 (S. 2324), sponsored by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Tom Coburn (R-OK), aims to bring greater government accountability by guaranteeing that qualified individuals are appointed as IGs, that IGs remain independent of inappropriate pressure or influence, and that all IG reports and audits are easily accessible to the public. With unanimous approval to the legislation only a week after the bill was introduced, the senators plan to push for a vote of the full Senate before the end of the year.
“With all the politics of Washington, government accountability is too frequently left behind and not given the attention it needs and deserves. The incredible support expressed today from both Republicans and Democrats during the Committee’s consideration of the IG Reform bill makes me optimistic that we will be able to get this legislation through Congress quickly and in a truly bipartisan fashion. Our tax dollars are at stake if we don’t,” McCaskill said.
Senator 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 of 2007 will improve the independence and effectiveness of Inspectors General and contribute to better relations among the IGs, the agencies they serve, and the Congress. I am pleased the Committee has approved this important legislation.”
“IGs have become like consumer protectors for the taxpayer deep within each federal agency,” said Lieberman. “Their audits have saved our government 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 valuable work for the public interest.”
“Inspectors general are true champions for the taxpayers and annually save taxpayers billions of dollars in their quest to root out waste, fraud and abuse. This bill is a great first step to making them more effective. The most important step, however, will be for elected officials to respond to their findings and eliminate the waste and other abuses of the public’s trust uncovered by inspectors general,” said Senator Coburn.
Specifically, the legislation will require that:
• Congress is notified of any proposed removal of an IG, along with the reasons for the removal, in writing with 30-days notice.
• All IGs must receive their own legal counsel or have access to the services of legal counsel of another Inspector General. This will allow them to avoid using agency counsels.
• A Council on Integrity and Efficiency for Inspectors General must be established. Within the Council, an Integrity Committee must be created to receive, review, and refer for investigation allegations of wrongdoing that are made against Inspectors General or certain other staff members.
• All IG websites are directly accessible from the home page of agency web sites. All IG reports must be posted on agency websites within 3 working days of their release.
• In the event of a vacancy, the Council for Integrity and Efficiency will recommend to the appointing authority three possible replacements.
• The president’s budget submission must state how much money is being requested for each IG office, as well as the funding level the IG requested for the office. This will allow Congress to identify whether agencies are trying to interfere with the work of an IG office by cutting funding.
• No IG may accept a bonus.
• Presidentially appointed IGs must be paid at Level III of the Executive Schedule, plus three percent, and other IGs must receive compensation comparable to other senior level executives in the department. This is aimed at preventing agencies from discouraging qualified candidates by lowering pay.
Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Barack Obama (D-IL), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Ted Stevens (R-AK) are co-sponsors of the legislation. Similar legislation introduced by Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN) in the House of Representatives received overwhelming bipartisan approval with a vote of 404-11.