July 11, 2018

Grassley Commemorates 40 Years of the Inspector General Act

PreparedStatement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman,Senate Judiciary Committee
At the 40 Year Celebration ofthe Passage of the Inspector General Act of 1979
July 11, 2018
As theSupreme Court has recognized, congressional oversight of the Executive Branchis fundamental to our system of checks and balances. It is inherent in thelegislative authorities vested in Congress by the Constitution. It’s one of themost effective checks we have. But, we cannot do it alone.
Today,there are about 2 million unelected bureaucrats, not including contractors andthe military. But if you include everyone who works for the federal governmentin one way or another, a 2015 study found the actual size is closer to 9million. By contrast, there are only 535 Members of Congress, and about 16,000congressional staff.
Thatmeans two things. One, there are a lot of layers between the People, who aresovereign in this country, and the folks making the day to day decisions abouthow the government treats the People. Two, the Executive Branch is exponentiallybigger than the Legislative Branch. So, the need to make sure the government isaccountable to the People has only grown more critical.
Congress’sability to oversee the Executive Branch has also become much more difficult.That’s one of the reasons Congress passed the Inspector General Act. TheInspector General Act lists the purposes of creating inspectors general.They include keeping the agency head and Congress “fully and currently informedabout problems and deficiencies relating to” programs and necessity for and“progress of corrective action.”
So,inspectors general are a force multiplier for congressional oversight. They areour eyes and ears in the Executive Branch. They help us make sure the work ofholding the government accountable gets done. Congress does not have the timeor the resources to look into all of the potential waste, fraud, and abuse inthe executive agencies. Even our oversight committees and staff, who arefocused on this work, do not have the capacity to investigate everything thatgoes on.
Inspectorsgeneral have more people, more resources, and more oversight tools. Forexample, IGs have criminal investigators, auditors and forensics capabilities.We all rely on inspector general reports to understand what’s going on insideagencies. Where is the waste, fraud and abuse? Where are there goodopportunities to save more of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money? Are the lawsbeing carried out the way Congress intended? Does Congress need to write alegislative fix? These are all questions that inspectors general help usanswer.
Inspectorsgeneral also don’t have to struggle with interests that compete withinstitutional prerogatives, the way that Congress does. It is certainly eachindividual member’s responsibility to conduct oversight. However, individualmembers on their own typically cannot force agencies to answer questions.
Manybureaucrats seem to think they only have to answer oversight requests if theyare forced to comply. But, for Congress to force the agency’s hand, you need toget members to work together to get access to information. It actually doeshappen a lot more than you probably think it does. I frequently send oversightrequests and conduct interviews on a bipartisan basis.
But,given the way Congress is designed, achieving a broad consensus and having thewill to act on information requests is often difficult. Members have a limitedamount of time to deal with all the competing priorities for theirconstituents. Many times members don’t have the capacity to do oversight due tothe weight of other responsibilities or the demands of party or electoralpolitics.
InspectorsGeneral do not have this problem. Or, at least, they are not supposed to.Inspectors General don’t have to coordinate with others and they are notsupposed to be political. They are supposed to be independent of agencymanagement. The requirement of inspectors general to operate independent ofpolitics and management tends to instill more confidence in their work.
That isparticularly true when dealing with highly visible and controversial topics.Agencies tend to trust inspectors general more than they trust Congress, andCongress tends to trust inspectors general more than we trust the agencies.
Even ifthey are independent of management, inspectors general are still part of theExecutive Branch. And, even though they are part of the Executive Branch, theystill report independently to Congress. That’s very valuable.
Ofcourse, sometimes the agencies are so allergic to independent review they eventry to thwart the good work of the inspectors general. As you all know, the InspectorGeneral Act required agencies to provide IGs with access to all recordsthey needed to do their jobs. Agencies cannot be trusted to restrict the flowof potentially embarrassing documents to the IGs who oversee them. If theagencies can keep IG’s in the dark, then Congress will be kept in the dark too.
But,beginning in 2010, a handful of agencies, led by the FBI, began to refuseproviding certain documents to IGs. Agencies started to withhold documents andargued that IGs are not entitled to “all records,” even though that’s exactlywhat the law says. The Justice Department claimed that the inspector generalcould not access certain records until department leadership gave thempermission. Requiring prior approval from agency leadership for access toagency information undermines inspector general independence. That is badenough, but it also causes wasteful delays. It effectively thwarts inspectorgeneral oversight. This is exactly the opposite of the way the law is supposedto work.
Butin 2015, the Office of Legal Counsel doubled down and singlehandedly overturnedthis critical provision in the Inspector General Act. So Congress had topass another law to say that we meant what we said the first time.
TheInspector General Empowerment Act clarified that the inspectors generalshould have access to all records, notwithstanding any other law. Of course, wecan’t stop there. Just because we pass a law does not mean agencies are alwaysgoing to follow it. So if inspectors general start running into this kind ofresistance from their agencies again, they need to tell Congress.
Finally,I want to say a word about whistleblowers. Whistleblower Appreciation Day iscoming up soon, and I’ll have even more to say then. But for now, we all knowhow important whistleblowers are to oversight. Justice Department InspectorGeneral Horowitz has called them the “lifeblood” of his organization’s work. Icouldn’t agree more.
Whistleblowersknow what’s really behind the agency talking points. They can tell you whenyou’re being lied to, or only getting part of the story. They know where tofind waste, fraud, and abuse. Inspectors general need to keep working withwhistleblowers, protecting their confidentiality, and constantly looking forways to make sure they understand the laws that protect them.
SinceCongress required inspectors general in 2012 to dedicate a “whistleblowerombudsman” in their organization to help with this they’ve done a pretty goodjob. And over the past couple of years, those ombudsmen have communicated wellwith each other, the office of special counsel, and Congress to try and leverageresources and knowledge appropriately.
Basedon what we have learned, my colleagues and I put together the WhistleblowerProtection Coordination Act. The President just signed it into law on June25, 2018.
Thenew law is designed to make sure these positions are permanently dedicated toensuring whistleblowers are properly informed. The position will also have theability to help the IGs continuously monitor and improve the whistleblowerprotection programs in their own organizations and across the federalgovernment.
Iam pleased that we can celebrate 40 years of partnership in the critical workof oversight with inspectors general. But we can’t rest on our laurels.Oversight is never really finished, so we have to stay vigilant. I look forwardto continuing our work together.