Should Federal Agencies & Departments Notify Congress When Inspectors General are Put on Non-Duty Status?
House Bill H.R. 1847
Inspectors General (IGs) are crucial watchdogs at federal agencies. Ensuring that Congress is informed when IGs are put on non-duty status and when IG roles are left vacant for extended periods of time will help ensure those positions at federal agencies are kept filled. Keeping IG positions filled across the federal government will ensure greater accountability at agencies.
The fact that numerous federal agencies have managed to operate without IGs for extended periods of time proves that these personnel aren’t necessary to ensure their agencies’ proper functioning. While it’d be ideal to have all IG positions filled across the federal government, this is a low priority that doesn’t rise to the level of requiring reports to Congress on this issue.
What is House Bill H.R. 1847?
This bill — the Inspector General Protection Act — would require federal agencies and departments to notify Congress within 30 days of enacting a personnel change such as putting their Inspector General (IG) on paid or unpaid non-duty status (current law already requires a president to notify Congress when an IG is being removed). It would also require the president to report to Congress if an IG hasn’t been nominated within 210 days after a position becomes vacant. In that report, the president would be required to provide the reasons for the lack of a nomination and a target date for nominating a replacement.
In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) introduced this bill to pressure the president on Inspector General (IG) vacancies. After this bill passed the House Committee on Oversight and Reform by voice vote, Rep. Lieu said:
“Inspectors general are critical to ensuring we root out fraud, waste and abuse in our government. Efforts by agencies and administrations to sideline inspectors general threatens our democracy and hinders transparency. I’m grateful that Chairman Cummings and Ranking Member Jordan share Rep. Hice and my concern over this issue, which has plagued both democratic and republican administrations. I look forward to this bill getting a vote on the floor so we can re-establish much-needed authority to our inspectors general.”
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) expressed support for this bill in his opening statement at its committee markup, saying:
“I am proud to support this bipartisan measure which would improve IG independence. The bill would also address the disturbingly slow nomination of IGs that has been the norm across multiple administrations. The bill would require notification of Congress 30 days prior to an IG being placed on leave. Such notification is already required prior to an IG being removed from duty. The bill also would require the President to report to Congress if he has not nominated an IG after 210 days of a vacancy occurring. The report must include the reasons for failing to make the nomination and a target date for doing so. The requirement will hopefully prod the executive branch to nominate IGs in a more timely manner. IGs provide critical oversight and accountability within federal agencies and the positions need to be filled more quickly than is currently the case.”
The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), which studies IGs, supports this bill. In an email to Government Executive, POGO Policy Counsel Rebecca Jones said:
“Federal inspectors general are essential to the functionality and accountability of federal agencies but it's crucial that Congress know when these entities lack permanent leadership. This bill encourages any sitting president, regardless of their party, to take the nominations of inspectors general seriously.”
This bill passed the House Committee on Oversight and Reform by voice vote with the support of one cosponsor, Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA).
Of Note: Research by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that vacancies spanning “from as little as two weeks to as long as six years” occurred in 53 of the 64 major IG offices over the period 2007-2016. The longest period of continuous vacancy for presidentially-appointed IGs was at the State Dept., which went without a permanent IG for five years and 258 days, beginning on January 16, 2008 until Steve Linick’s confirmation on September 30, 2013. The next-longest vacancy, at the Interior Dept.’s IG office, lasted four years and 273 days during the period the GAO studied — and continues today.
Federal IGs serve as the heads of independent, non-partisan organizations at each executive branch agency. Their role is to serve as agency watchdogs, auditing their respective agencies to discover and investigate cases of misconduct, waste, fraud and other abuse of government procedures within the agency.
For Cabinet-level agencies, IGs are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Cabinet-level IGs can only be removed by the president. For other agencies, known as “designated federal agencies,” such as Amtrak, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Federal Reserve, IGs are appointed and removed by the agency heads.
IGs are appointed based on their integrity and experience in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) observes that IGs have provided crucial information to the public during the Trump administration. This includes “the true number of families separated at the southern border [and] the General Service Administration’s “improper” failure to consider constitutional issues related to the government’s lease with the Trump Organization for the President’s DC hotel.” CREW continues, “Given the importance of IGs in curbing ethical abuses by the Trump administration, it should come as no surprise that the President has allowed many of these positions to remain vacant and nominated cronies in other cases.”
CREW observes that President Trump’s commitment to installing permanent, independent IGs has been questionable. Early in his presidency, Trump withdrew four IG candidates’ nominations before their Senate votes. Then, in summer 2018, Trump’s nominee for CIA IG, Christopher Sharpley, withdrew his name from consideration after former colleagues after former colleagues alleged he’d retaliate against whistleblowers in the office. As of February 2019, there were 12 IG vacancies — including five that’d lasted the entire duration of the Trump administration — at executive branch agencies