Lawmakers want IGs to have greater independence

Momentum is building for legislation that would ensure that inspectors general have the independence to “speak truth to power,” lawmakers and other federal officials said June 20 at a House subcommittee hearing.

Congress’ creation of the IG position 30 years ago has led to tremendous auditing success, said Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Government Management, Organization and Procurement Subcommittee.

But a few recent incidents have raised questions about IGs’ objectivity and accountability. Towns called the hearing to solicit input on a bill to ensure IGs’ independence, called the Improving Government Accountability Act (H.R. 928).

“We all feel that something needs to happen in a positive way,” Towns said.

The bill would give IGs more protection when an agency executive or the president wants to remove them from office. It also would ask IGs to serve for a fixed term of seven years and would give more auditors authority to execute warrants and carry firearms.

Similar legislation was introduced in 2004, but Congress never passed the full bill.

“There is widespread support in the IG community for many provisions in the bill,” Phyllis Fong, the Agriculture Department’s IG, testified at the hearing.

Jeffrey Steinhoff, managing director of financial management and assurance at the Government Accountability Office, also expressed support. “We believe that a number of the provisions in H.R. 928 would help to enhance IG independence and effectiveness.”

Independence is the key to effectiveness, said Kenneth Mead, former IG at the Transportation Department. “The job of the inspector general is to speak truth to power,” he added.

But Clay Johnson, the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management, said he did not endorse the bill. The general quality of IG work is superb, accountability is strong, and IGs should not serve as “junkyard dogs,” he said.

Johnson also clashed with Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), who repeated his call for the removal of NASA IG Robert Cobb. Miller said Cobb was biased and had used his position to shield the Bush administration from embarrassment over agency failures. The House Science and Technology Committee has been investigating Cobb’s performance.

Johnson said Miller’s assertions were wrong. “I believe there is more transparency on what doesn’t work in the federal government than ever before,” Johnson added.

Tarallo is a freelance writer based in Washington.

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