Critical Read

How independent are IGs?

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WHAT: "Balancing Independence and Positive Engagement: How Inspectors General Work with Agencies and Congress," from the IBM Center for the Business of Government

WHY: As the title of the report suggests, inspectors general face a balancing act, between getting too cozy with the leadership of the agencies they are supposed to be supervising, and expectations in Congress that IGs are meant to carry water for members' partisan complaints. In this report, a trio of political scientists examines this conundrum through the eyes of the IGs themselves and come up with a few "success factors" that drive positive engagement between IGs and Congress and IGs and agency leadership, including creating a foundational, shared notion of the IG's role and responsibilities and establishing communications routines and relationships that support this understanding.

The report arrives at an unusually chilling time in IG-agency relations. In February, a panel of IGs told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that they were having trouble getting access to documents and agency employees to pursue investigations. In August 2014, 47 IGs first went public with these issues in a letter to the chairs and ranking members of government oversight bodies in the House and the Senate, complaining about the lack of access to federal records.

VERBATIM: "Expectations of independence and positive engagement can produce crosscutting pressures for OIGs when independence might be compromised. Highly critical OIG reports often make the front page in national news media and, when IG findings become the subject of congressional hearings, they often place agency leadership on the defensive. Understandably, relations between an OIG and the agency's leadership might be adversely affected by such reports and their public airing. And IGs have been publicly criticized and sometimes forced to resign when their relationships with their agencies appear to have compromised their independence. This perceived lack of independence, in particular, can adversely affect an IG's relationship with Congress since the IG is expected to make regular reports to Congress that are not filtered by agency leadership and staff."

Read the full report here

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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