Inspector Generals


Maybe we should all spend more time reading the Inspector General reports, which are (required to be) posted on line. Look at what ProPublica’s Jake Bernstein found. He had a titillating report (really! see below) by the IG for the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) on the activities inside the department. The IG found employees downloading online porn, running a private business out of government offices among other derelictions of duty. (Think while the cat’s away, the mice were playing….).

It made me want to look at little deeper into the whole IG system and whether some sunlight on their work could tell us a lot of stuff we don’t know.

Congress, via the Inspector General Act of 1978 set up offices of inspector general (OIG) in federal agencies and charged them with auditing and ferreting out abuse, fraud, mismanagement and waste within their agency. Over the past 30 years, Congress has expanded the act, including increasing the number of agencies with IGs from the original 12 to 65 today. (Here’s an alphabetical listing of each agency’s OIG along with links to each OIG’s Web site.) Each OIG posts their audit reports on their Web site. Their investigative reports, which could lead to law enforcement actions, are not made public. Maybe that’s where the ‘best’ stuff is.

This fall, Congress passed, with unanimous votes in both chambers, the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, to enhance the IG independence. According to the Center for Public Integrity’s Matthew Lewis, lawmakers wrote the bill to provide separate legal counsel for inspectors, beef up law enforcement authority, and establish an executive Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. In October, President Bush signed the bill into law. Matthew also adds that Bush issued a signing statement objecting to several provisions, including the authority of the separate legal counsel. Another section he objected to dealt with IG comments of presidential budget submissions. The president’s statement says, ‘The executive branch shall construe section 8 of the bill in a manner consistent with the president’s constitutional authority.’”

But more can be done to improve the requirements now in place. Sen. Claire McCaskill has introduced S.3731, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Act of 2008. This bill would amend the federal financial bailout, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, by beefing up the oversight powers of the bailout’s Special Inspector General. On December 10, the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent, and sent it to the House.