Amendment Will Empower Inspectors General, Help Ensure They Can Perform Watchdog Responsibilities Independently & Efficiently
WASHINGTON — United States Senator Susan Collins, along with a bipartisan delegation of her Senate colleagues, filed a bipartisan amendment today that will increase government accountability by providing much-needed authority for our nation’s inspectors general (IG). This amendment will help to ensure that these government agency watchdogs can perform their responsibilities in an efficient and independent manner.
“Inspectors General are vital partners in Congress’s effort to identify inefficient, ineffective, and improper uses of taxpayer dollars and to hold government accountable to the people it serves,”said Senator Collins. “This bipartisan amendment will help to ensure that government watchdogs are able to access the records and information required to successfully perform their crucial responsibilities.”
The Inspector General Act of 1978 established the Federal Inspectors General (IG) as independent and objective units within most government agencies whose duties are to combat waste, fraud, and abuse in the programs and operations of their respective agencies. In order to perform these duties successfully, under this law, inspectors general have unfettered access to any and all information they deem necessary for effective oversight.
On July 20, 2015, however, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion that allows the department (DOJ) and, potentially, other agencies to justify denying records sought by the Inspector General (IG), completely circumventing clear congressional intent. In this opinion, the Office of Legal Counsel said that all IGs now must obtain agency permission to access certain documents. The broad opinion also left open the door for other agencies to rely on it to deny their inspectors general access to documents.
Following discussions with the inspectors general community, DOJ and others, Senator Collins and this bipartisan group of senators have agreed on language to address this opinion and ensure our inspectors general are able to access all agency documents. The substitute language amends the bipartisan S. 579, the Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2015, which unanimously passed the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and was reported to the Senate by Chairman Johnson earlier this year.
Senator Collins has long advocated for empowering our IGs so they can best serve as our nation’s independent investigative force. In 2008, Senator Collins was an original cosponsor of the bipartisan Inspector General Reform Act of 2007 that was unanimously passed by the Senate. This legislation helped to guarantee that qualified individuals are appointed as IGs, that they remain independent of pressure or influence from the government agencies they investigate, and all IG reports and audits are easily accessible to the public.
A copy of the substitute amendment is here.
The bipartisan group of senators includes Sens: Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Joni Ernst (R- Iowa), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), James Lankford (R-Okla.) Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).