The Inspector General Empowerment Act would ensure that federal IGs can gain access to all the agency information they request in the course of an investigation.
The House passed a bill on June 21 that seeks to clarify federal watchdogs' authority.
The Inspector General Empowerment Act, sponsored by Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), would strengthen and extend the powers delegated to IGs and reverse the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel's more restrictive July 2015 interpretation of the 1978 Inspector General Act.
The IG community pushed for the bill in in 2015, but it did not become law. The oversight community is seeking explicit assurance that access to all agency material includes anything sought in an IG investigation, such as grand jury testimony, wiretap information, credit information and other material that the Obama administration has argued is restricted by laws other than the 1978 IG Act.
The "all means all" language sought by the IG community was included in one appropriations bill for the current fiscal year, but that only covered oversight bodies at six agencies.
"The remaining 66 federal inspectors general are not covered by this language," wrote Justice Department IG Michael Horowitz and Peace Corps IG Kathy Buller. "Without reversing the July 2015 [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion, Congress will increasingly be asked to arbitrate such disputes or to remind agencies that 'all' means 'all.'"
Other powers sought in the legislation include authorizing IGs to expedite cross-agency data matching, access agency records, and subpoena federal contractors and former government employees under certain circumstances.
"The inspectors general help Congress to shape legislation and to target our oversight and investigative activities," Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said. "When agencies refuse or limit IGs' access to agency records, it undermines the intent of Congress and frustrates our mutual goal of government transparency and efficiency."
The bill received bipartisan support in the House.
"Unfettered access to agency information is a cornerstone of the IGs' ability to conduct their missions effectively," Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said.
"The entire inspector general community looks forward to the Senate promptly passing similar legislation to assure taxpayers that inspectors general have the legal authority to root out waste, fraud and abuse and to make sure federal tax dollars are being used effectively and efficiently," Horowitz said in a statement.