At the close of his administration, President Obama signed into law a measure that specifies access for inspectors general to agency information.
President Barack Obama signed a bill clarifying and safeguarding access of agency inspectors general to government information. The signing of the bill concludes for now a long-simmering dispute between the IG community and several executive branch agencies over the authority of official watchdogs to access sensitive information as part of their oversight duties.
The Inspectors General Empowerment Act, which passed in the House and Senate without opposition at the close of the current session of Congress, updates the 1979 legislation establishing agency watchdogs across government agencies to clarify the authority of IGs to access even sensitive agency information under certain circumstances. This includes federal grand jury materials and wiretap information -- a sticking point for Michael Horowitz, inspector general at the Department of Justice and chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE).
In 2015 congressional testimony, Horowitz complained about a memo from the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department that put restrictions on the ability of IGs to obtain certain types of information. "A hallmark of the IG Act -- independent access by inspectors general to all information in an agency’s possession that is necessary for our oversight work -- has been pierced," Horowitz said.
CIGIE released a statement calling the new law, "a landmark piece of legislation welcomed by IGs and all advocates of government accountability and efficiency."
An earlier version of the bill passed the House in June 2016, but did not move in the Senate.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary said that the bill will "safeguard access to the information Inspectors General need to do their jobs" and that thanks to changes made in the legislation, the act "now strikes an appropriate balance between affording Inspectors General the access they need and protecting Americans' privacy and civil liberties."
The bill was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.)
"We're pleased to see this bill become a reality. This bipartisan legislation will help inspectors general root out waste, fraud, and abuse, and it will pave the way toward greater openness and transparency in government," the three lawmakers said in a joint statement.