We may finally be strengthening the power of the Inspectors General

Have you noticed that the various offices of the Inspectors General in the federal government do a lot of inspecting but don’t seem to have much muscle behind their decisions? With too many other entities controlling the results of their investigations and various union protections and “privacy” considerations hamstringing them, the IG offices are frequently thwarted in their efforts at accountability. That may be about to change with the reintroduction of a bill in the House which would remove the handcuffs to a certain degree. (Government Executive)

The House late Tuesday voted to expand the investigative powers of the 72 inspectors general, including subpoena power over current and former agency officials and contractors—under certain conditions, where access to agency documents is currently blocked due to privacy considerations.

The Inspector General Empowerment Act (H.R. 2395), introduced in May 2015 by Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz , R-Utah, was pushed in the previous Congress but did not become law.

“Inspectors general are at the heart of keeping the federal government honest,” Chaffetz said. “Yet, they face too many roadblocks in conducting their investigations. This legislation removes unnecessary obstacles designed to thwart the oversight process and clears a path toward greater openness and transparency.”

This bill would add some power to IG investigations which some of you might be surprised to find are lacking. Whether it’s an investigation of waste, fraud and abuse or actual criminal activity, the Inspectors General can currently issue subpoenas for people to testify, but in too many cases the subject can simply refuse to comply. Reasons for noncompliance can range from alleged privacy concerns to claims of national security protection, but it too often seems to be left up to the discretion of the target of the investigation as to what constitutes national security. The unions do their part to obstruct such investigations at every turn, frequently under the aforementioned privacy concerns.

Under this new system there would still be some limits on the IGs in terms of subpoena power, but they would at least be expanded and give them the chance to have the Justice Department rule on the request if the subject refuses. The bill would also task the GAO with a duty to study prolonged vacancies in IG offices. This is a needed protection because the Inspectors General are about as popular in most government departments as the Internal Affairs guys are in police departments. For those who may not want people peering into their books, the best Inspector General is no Inspector General at all.

It would be nice to see some bipartisan support for this bill no matter how much the unions may kick and scream over it. To oppose something like this can easily be described to the voters as opposing oversight and transparency in how your tax dollars are spent, and that should be a loser no matter which party you’re from.