Bill Improving Inspectors General Independence Passes Congress

by Rick Melberth*, 10/7/2008

Congress recently passed legislation that reforms the functions of federal agencies' inspectors general to increase their independence and insulate them from political interference. The passage comes after more than a year of negotiations in Congress and between the legislative and executive branches. President Bush is expected sign the bill.

The Inspector General Act of 1978 created independent units, called inspectors general (IGs), within most federal agencies to conduct audits and investigations of agency activities to ensure that agencies are as effective, efficient, and accountable as possible. The law requires the IGs to report to their respective agency heads, who are to transmit the reports to the appropriate congressional oversight committees. Amendments to the act over the years have expanded the number of inspectors general, placing them in 65 federal agencies and departments.

 

The Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, H.R. 928, passed the Senate Sept. 24; it passed the House Sept. 27 by a 414-0 vote. Passage of the legislation is in response to controversies about the roles and operations of IGs and claims of political interference in their activities. IGs have become at times a political football, having been injected into controversies about the effectiveness of the response to Hurricane Katrina, the firings of several U.S Attorneys, and political interference in the work of scientists at the Department of the Interior and at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) in February 2007 and approved by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in September of that year. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in June 2007.

In October 2007, President Bush issued a statement of administration policy threatening to veto the bill over provisions that would have infringed upon the president's ability to supervise and remove IGs. The president also objected to provisions that would have required IGs to submit budget requests directly to Congress, bypassing the normal budget process, which requires presidential review and approval. Bush also objected to codifying an independent council of IGs, even though such a council exists by executive order. Several provisions addressing the president's objections were removed and altered in the final bill to gain White House support.

Among the changes included in H.R. 928 are:

  • A requirement that the president or agency heads inform both houses of Congress of the reasons for removing or transferring IGs at least 30 days prior to the removal or transfer. Under current law, the president is required to communicate the reasons to Congress but is not required to do so prior to an IG's removal or transfer.
  • Salary increases for IGs to pay them as senior level executive employees, but with a prohibition on receiving bonuses or cash awards
  • The creation within the executive branch of a Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency to "(A) address integrity, economy, and effectiveness issues that transcend individual Government agencies; and (B) increase the professionalism and effectiveness of personnel by developing policies, standards, and approaches to aid in the establishment of a well-trained and highly skilled workforce in the offices of the Inspectors General."
  • Provisions to allow IGs to obtain their own legal counsel. The bill allows IGs to seek counsel from other IG offices, have their own counsel reporting directly to them, or obtain counsel from the Council of the Inspectors General
  • The establishment of separate budget lines in the requests of the IGs, agency heads, and the president for the operations, training, and support of the IGs so that Congress can clearly track the resources a president intends to provide IGs
  • A provision requiring agencies to have a direct link on their homepages to the office of their IG so that IG reports and materials are easily accessible and so that the public can directly report instances of waste, fraud, and abuse

 

The bill was sent to President Bush Oct. 3, and he is expected to sign the legislation.