WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced bipartisan legislation strengthening a 2008 inspector general (IG) protection law that has been routinely flouted by successive administrations from both political parties. The Securing Inspector General Independence Act is cosponsored by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), James Lankford (R-OK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
“This bipartisan bill makes it clear that important and necessary steps must be taken before an Inspector General can be removed from their post. Congress must be given a detailed account of the reasons for the removal, and a full 30 days to consider those reasons while the Inspector General remains on the job. These protections are crucial to ensuring Congress fully understands the reasons a president would remove an Inspector General and ensures IGs are independent and empowered to root out waste, fraud, and abuse,” said Portman, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“Inspectors General are essential to helping Congress save taxpayer dollars and hold government accountable to the American people. These hardworking agency watchdogs must be allowed to do their jobs without political interference. After the last four years, we need to make certain that future Administrations are not able to interfere with Inspector General investigations,” said Peters, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “I’m proud to help lead this important, bipartisan effort to safeguard the independence of Inspectors General and ensure that these watchdogs are better able to hold federal agencies accountable.”
“There’s really only bad precedent from prior administrations ignoring the inspector general protection law. Worse still is that a court upheld an Obama administration action, and the Trump administration was able to apply the same standard. Congress should expect more of the same if it doesn’t act to clarify the law. Our bill spells out Congress’ expectations from the Executive Branch when the president decides to remove an IG, and prevents conflicts of interest that can arise when IGs are replaced with political appointees,” said Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Though the Constitution establishes the President’s authority to manage executive branch employees, the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act requires the president to provide Congress with a written explanation at least 30 days prior to removing an IG to prevent politically-motivated terminations. However, less than a year after it was enacted, President Obama fired AmeriCorps IG Gerald Walpin without providing sufficient details as Congress had intended under the law, prompting bipartisan members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to push for more answers. A court later ruled that the administration wasn’t required to provide additional reasons prior to removing an IG – a case cited by the Trump administration when it initially refused to provide details following the removal of Intelligence Community IG Michael Atkinson and State Department IG Steve Linick.
The Securing Inspector General Independence Act clarifies the 2008 law 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 IGs, including during the 30 days following the removal announcement. Both Presidents Obama and Trump used administrative leave to effectively sideline IGs during the 30-day period. 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.
The bill is endorsed by the National Whistleblower Center, Government Accountability Project, the Partnership for Public Service and the Senior Executive Association. The Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) was consulted during the bill’s development.