House Dems want details on transition team threats to oust IGs

Two members on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee want answers from the White House about reports that Trump officials told agency watchdogs to start looking for new jobs.

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Two Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee want answers from the White House about reports that transition officials threatened to oust agency watchdogs after the inauguration, before reversing course days later.

Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) sent a Jan. 31 letter to White House Counsel Donald McGahn seeking clarification regarding the reports.

"Based on the information we have received, on January 13, 2017, Trump transition team officials from various federal agencies engaged in a coordinated campaign to 'inform' their respective inspectors general that their positions were 'temporary,'" the representatives wrote. "They also reportedly informed several inspectors general that they should begin looking for other employment."

The Trump team reportedly reversed that initial posture, and "high-level" transition officials, including McGahn, told the IGs these initial indications were "erroneous and should never have been made," according to the letter.

In October, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency released a Presidential transition handbook outlining the mission of IGs, as well as traditional transition practices.

"Reflecting their independent, nonpartisan role, unlike other political appointees, IGs typically remain in office when Presidential administrations change," the handbook states. "This practice has been followed for the past 35 years."

Of the 73 IG posts, 36 are presidentially appointed, while the others are chosen by their agency heads.

Presidents do have the authority to remove politically appointed watchdogs, but "this authority should be used rarely, judiciously and only for cause -- never for partisan reasons," Cummings and Connolly wrote. "We believe that attacks on our nation's inspectors general are attacks on our taxpayers and their ability to hold their government accountable."

And if a president does intend to remove or transfer an IG, the Inspector General Act of 1978 requires the White House to submit to the House and Senate reasons for doing so in writing with at least 30 days' notice. The Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2016, which President Barack Obama signed in December, provides additional protections to agency IGs.

"Congress established these requirements to give inspectors general the freedom to identify problems with the current administration without fearing that the President would immediately remove them from office," the letter states.

Cummings and Connolly said their inquiry was prompted by concern over the "troubling pattern of misguided and politically-motivated attacks on government watchdogs, ethics officials and career government employees" by the Trump administration.

The lawmakers requested that the White House identify and pass along the names of the individuals who approved the calls to the IGs, as well as those who carried them out. Cummings and Connolly also asked for "official confirmation" that the Trump administration will not fire any of these agency watchdogs.

The letter seeks a White House response by Feb. 6.

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