Smelling a RAT
posted at 10:11 am on February 19, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
Byron York smells a RAT. Charles Grassley smelled a RAT right before the Senate vote on Porkulus, but couldn’t get his statement to the floor on time. You’ll smell a rat, too, when you’re done reading this post, and it won’t just be the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, either:
You’ve heard a lot about the astonishing spending in the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, signed into law this week by President Barack Obama. But you probably haven’t heard about a provision in the bill that threatens to politicize the way allegations of fraud and corruption are investigated — or not investigated — throughout the federal government.
The provision, which attracted virtually no attention in the debate over the 1,073-page stimulus bill, creates something called the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board — the RAT Board, as it’s known by the few insiders who are aware of it. The board would oversee the in-house watchdogs, known as inspectors general, whose job is to independently investigate allegations of wrongdoing at various federal agencies, without fear of interference by political appointees or the White House.
In the name of accountability and transparency, Congress has given the RAT Board the authority to ask “that an inspector general conduct or refrain from conducting an audit or investigation.” If the inspector general doesn’t want to follow the wishes of the RAT Board, he’ll have to write a report explaining his decision to the board, as well as to the head of his agency (from whom he is supposedly independent) and to Congress. In the end, a determined inspector general can probably get his way, but only after jumping through bureaucratic hoops that will inevitably make him hesitate to go forward.
First, let’s ask ourselves how this stimulates the economy. Why include this in an emergency stimulus bill when it has nothing to do with stimulus or economics? This rule change should have come in separate debate in Congress — like so many other portions of Porkulus.
It does, however, have everything to do with Hope and Change. What the RAT Board can do, as York points out, is direct or quash investigations by Inspectors General throughout the federal bureaucracy. Until now, IGs have had independence of action in order to avoid charges of politicization (remember that word?) and to conduct probes without interference from the Department of Justice, the White House, or Congress. Now they will answer to Congress not on general performance, but on the specifics of their probes.
How did it get into Porkulus? Grassley says it wasn’t in the original bill passed in the Senate, and it suddenly appeared in the conference version. No one has claimed ownership of the RAT Board yet, but clearly the Democratic majority wants full control over oversight in the bureaucracy — which more or less means an end to effective oversight over the majority, which is the entire point of the IG position. After all, if we could rely on politicians and bureaucrats to police themselves, we wouldn’t need Constitutional checks and balances at all.
The name of the RAT Board is Orwellian, as is its appearance in the administration that claimed it would have the most transparency in American history. Putting IGs under Nancy Pelosi’s thumb eliminates transparency and accountability, and calling it an Accountability and Transparency Board is a grim joke. It’s simply a mechanism to shut down potentially embarrassing (or worse) IG investigations while commanding others against political foes.
Put simply, it brings the worst aspects of the Chicago Machine to Washington DC — a result which we repeatedly warned would happen with Obama’s election.