Federal IGs object to attack on independence

posted at 4:26 pm on July 6, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Promotions always sound terrific, except for the Inspectors General in the federal government.  Currently, they report to both Congress and the executive branch, which creates a check and balance that helps preserve their independence.  Now Congress apparently wants to give an ex post facto grant of legitimacy to Barack Obama’s attack on IG Gerald Walpin by making all IGs report only to the executive:

Inspectors general at five financial regulatory agencies are objecting to legislation that would elevate their positions to the presidential-appointment level, arguing that the move would compromise their ability to conduct independent investigations.

The bill would elevate the five officials at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the National Credit Union Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. …

The bill, passed last month by the House and awaiting Senate consideration, comes amid a period of increased tension for the government watchdog community, which has seen the departure or dismissal of three inspectors general in recent weeks.

Last month, the International Trade Commission dismissed its inspector general and President Obama fired Gerald Walpin, inspector general at the Corporation for National and Community Service. Also, Amtrak’s inspector general retired suddenly after delivering to leadership of the federally backed corporation an independent audit alleging interference with his probes. Amtrak said retirement arrangements had been made before the analysis was delivered.

Federal watchdogs and their investigative and auditing staffs are tasked with rooting out government corruption or investigating sensitive personnel matters. According to the Government Accountability Office, there are at least 69 inspector general offices across the federal government, with new ones established as the need arises. The president appoints approximately 30 IGs, while the remainder are appointed directly by agency leadership. Rules and reporting structures vary.

Democrats and the White House claim that the changes provide better accountability, but their track record on Gerald Walpin says otherwise.  They went after Walpin hard, accusing him of mental instability, when he objected to a ludicrously easy deal to let Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson — an Obama supporter — off the hook.   In doing so, White House counsel Norman Eisen initially bypassed required Congressional participation by attempting to intimidate Walpin out of his job, and then in firing him outright.

This comes as a piece with the explosion of “czars” in the Obama administration.  Obama has appointed more than a dozen people with plenary powers over the federal bureaucracy, outside of Congressional oversight.  Obama claims that several “emergency” situations demands dictatorial strength in White House aides, which is why we now have an auto-industry czar and a “pay czar,” among others, imposing federal control over private-sector decisions outside the purview of the legislative branch.

The bill to surrender the IGs to the White House is a dereliction of duty by Congress.  It threatens to remove accountability in the system just as the executive branch attempts to take unprecedented control over the federal bureaucracy.  We need a strong Congress to counter a runaway executive, not a supine body that allows an executive to trample over its prerogatives.


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