Government Inspectors General Describe Atmosphere of Restricted Access

Inspectors General (yes, that’s the plural) are considered watchdogs for the government. Their jobs primarily focus on “uncovering waste, fraud, and mismanagement”, which is an important function to keep government programs and agencies in check.

A serious breach of trust is evident, therefore, when 47 of 73 Inspectors General pen a letter to Congress describing “serious limitations on access to records.” That’s 64% of the total watchdogs who express such concerns. You can read the letter here:

The letter takes aim at primarily three agencies: the General at the Peace Corps, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Justice. These Inspectors General “recently faced restrictions on their access to certain records available to their agencies that were needed to perform their oversight work in critical areas.” The restrictions were not limited to just those Inspectors General; hence the overwhelming need to pen a letter to Congress. The Inspectors General described how other

“Inspectors General have, from time to time, faced similar obstacles to their work, whether on a claim that some other law or principle trumped the clear mandate of the IG Act or by the agency’s imposition of unnecessarily burdensome administrative conditions on access. Even when we are ultimately able toresolve these issues with senior agency leadership, the process is often lengthy, delays our work, and diverts time and attention from substantive oversight activities. This plainly is not what Congress intended when it passed the IG Act.

The Inspector General Act of 1978 is clear. The pertinent statute that relates to access is Section §6: Authority of Inspector General; information and assistance from Federal agencies; unreasonable refusal; office space and equipment. It patently states:

(a) In addition to the authority otherwise provided by this Act, each Inspector General, in
carrying out the provisions of this Act, is authorized—

(1) to have access to all records, reports, audits, reviews, documents, papers, recommendations,
or other material available to the applicable establishment which relate to programs and
operations with respect to which that Inspector General has responsibilities under this Act

The full text of the law can be found here:

The letter to Congress was addressed to the Honorable Darrell Issa, the Honorable Thomas R. Carper, The Honorable Elijah Cummings, and The Honorable Tom Coburn. What made the letter particularly notable, however, was its size and scope.

Darrell Issa described, “I’ve never seen a letter like this, and my folks have checked — there has never been a letter even with a dozen IGs complaining. This is the majority of all inspectors general saying not just in the examples they gave, but government wide, they see a pattern that is making them unable to do their job.”

Reading the official website for Inspectors General, one can see they pride themselves on service, “whose primary responsibilities, to the American public, are to detect and prevent fraud, waste, abuse, and violations of law and to promote economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the operations of the Federal Government.”

The fact that the majority of the Inspectors General find themselves unable to perform their duties to audit the federal government is quite troubling, because it is another example of the “most transparent administration” choosing to willfully cloak themselves in secrecy. Stonewalling the very agents — who have a duty to the American people to keep government in check — is another tactical abuse of power.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports today about an incident in which an Inspector General for the Commerce department received a “filtered” version that watered down telework abuse incidents in the U.S. Patent Office.

The original report, seen here described “‘fundamental issues’ with the business model of the patent office”, and that oversight was “Oversight of the telework program — and of examiners based at the Alexandria headquarters — was “completely ineffective,”.

The final report was only 16 pages, compared to the original one, which was twice the size.

The report confirmed the fears allayed in the aforementioned letter to Congress: The post reports that “Investigators recommended “unmitigated access” to records when abuse is suspected.

The version supplied to the inspector general, though, explained that managers did not provide full access to computer records that could substantiate allegations of fraud because officials did not want to be seen as “big brother” through electronic surveillance.”

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