Bush threatens to veto a bill that would strengthen IGs

Democrats in the House, citing political pressures that interfere with the work of inspectors’ general, passed legislation last week that would reinforce the independent role of IGs as agency watchdogs. The legislation faces a divided Senate and White House officials who oppose the bill.

Democratic leaders said the legislation is necessary because of numerous recent instances of IGs appointed by President Bush who seem more concerned about covering up potential political embarrassments than doing their jobs.

“The last six years have given us examples of inspectors general at their best and at their worst,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, during a floor debate.

A committee report on the legislation states allegations that the State Department’s IG halted investigations and censored reports because of his affinity to the administration and partisan political ties.

The report also lists problems at the Commerce Department, NASA and the General Services Administration, among others.

Most IGs don’t allow political pressures to influence their work, according to the report. The committee estimates that in fiscal 2006, IG audits saved $9.9 billion in avoided spending and $6.8 billion in recoveries because of IG investigations.

The House passed the Improving Government Accountability Act last week in a 404-11 vote. The bill will now go to the Senate, where Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member, are working on their own IG reform bill.

The bill also would require that IGs submit their own budget requests to the Office of Management and Budget and directly to Congress. In the president’s budget request, IGs would need to note the proposed budget differences between the IG’s and the agency’s requests.

The Democratic IG legislation faces challenges. If the measure gets beyond the Senate and to the White House, the president’s senior advisers have said they will urge the president to veto it. In a policy statement, the administration said it strongly opposes the bill’s provision regarding budget requests because it would allow IGs to circumvent the president’s control over determining the annual federal budget request to Congress.

Some critics of the legislation say the arrangement for funding IGs offices isn’t broken and that IGs aren’t strapped for money to perform their jobs.

Administration officials say the legislation would subvert the president’s authority to remove an appointee from office and prevent the president from holding IGs accountable for their performance.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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