Government officials have frequently been accused of blocking federal auditors and investigators from doing their jobs – leaving agencies vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse.
Last August, a group of 47 Inspectors General sent a letter to Congress alleging that agencies were intentionally obstructing their investigations and delaying their work.
In one instance, auditors at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office were denied to whistleblower complaints alleging that more than 8,000 workers were abusing the agency’s telecommuting policy by being paid for hours they weren’t working.
EPA auditors also say they’ve been denied access to requested documents from their agency.
In the letter, the IGs called on Congress to grant them more authority over their agencies. In response, lawmakers have introduced a number of bills to strengthen the auditors’ authority though nothing really seems to stick.
Now, a bipartisan group of senators is trying again. A new bill sponsored by Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) would allow IGs to subpoena testimony from contractors, grant recipients and former employees.
“This bill gives inspectors general more tools to investigate agencies and ferret out improper payments, and it helps ensure the independence of our federal watchdogs,” Johnson said in a joint statement with the others. “These are bipartisan goals.”
The measure would give IGs authority to access electronic records from agencies without having to get permission from their department officials first, as they must now. The bill also addresses another concern many government reformists have about the IG community: office vacancies.
The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) says there are 10 IG vacancies – so those agencies are currently served by an acting IG who doesn’t have the same authority. They’re also selected by the very agencies they’re supposed to evaluate.
Government reformists have routinely urged the administration to speed up the appointment process and replace the acting IGs with official, independent auditors. The senators’ bill would require the GAO to regularly brief Congress on the number of IG vacancies and their effect on the agencies they serve.
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