Issa to IGs: Don't leave Congress in the dark

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said May 10 that IGs need to inform Congress when they tell their agency heads about crises on the horizon. In other words, lawmakers don’t want to be in the dark while the administration hears of problems.

At a hearing today, Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he and his staff members cannot attend critical agency meetings with the Cabinet secretaries about possible waste or abuse. But the IGs have a responsibility to tell overseers on Capitol Hill, particularly Issa’s committee.

“Unless we have that same level [of transparency], then the White House knows an awful lot more about things that are going right and wrong, more directly and more unfettered, than we do,” Issa said.

He then gave his new view of the law regarding IG reporting.

“It would be my new interpretation that anything that you choose—or believe you have to tell an agency head formally or informally because you believe it is significant—triggers that requirement that you also tell us in due course,” Issa said.

His comments stem from the recent debacle at the General Services Administration. GSA officials spent $822,000 for 300 agency employees to have a luxurious stay in Las Vegas during the Western Region Conference in 2010. The report from the GSA IG Brian Miller in April led to the resignation of Administrator Martha Johnson and the firing of several senior officials. Other senior officials were placed on leave. The scandal also caused uproar in Congress, leading to four hearings in three days and a call from at least one lawmaker to dismantle GSA.

Issa is concerned that White House officials heard about the scandal long before his committee learned of it. Issa said that while Miller or his staff didn’t necessarily tell the White House officials directly, informing GSA officials was enough for the information to get to the Obama administration. Meanwhile, Issa was in the dark.

Issa voiced these same concerns in April during the first hearing delving into the GSA conference scandal. Issa told Miller he was “more than a little concerned” it took so long for the IG to tell his committee.

At that hearing, Miller quickly acknowledged his office should have told the oversight committee about the problems, instead of the chairman learning about it so late in the process. “I’m receiving your message that we need to come to you sooner, much sooner,” he said in April.

At today’s hearing, Issa touched on the same point.

“If something is significant enough that you’re pre-warning an administration official because you want them to deal with it immediately and it is in fact serious, doesn’t that trigger the same requirement under current statute that you report to Congress?” Issa asked.

Phyllis Fong, chairwoman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and the Agriculture Department’s IG, said the law requires IGs to keep the agency head and Congress informed. But there is some discretion since IGs are supposed to address problems with the agency quickly.

Issa said IGs and Congress could refine the process with his new interpretation. However, legislation is another possibility, although an unwanted approach.

About the Author

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

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